The White House contends the hacks were aimed at freezing two critical businesses in the U.S. The one on JBS — the world’s biggest meat processor — resulted in an $11 million payoff. Hitting Colonial Pipeline, which transports gas to nearly half the East Coast, triggered gas and jet-fuel shortages and panic buying. The firm paid about $4.4 million in ransom.
An energy distribution system and major meatpackers are two of the higher-profile victims of ransomware attacks – but others either are afoot or on the drawing board.
CEO Joseph Blount, who appeared before a U.S. Senate committee last week. He told them that the hackers were able to get into their system because it lacked a multi-factor authentication protocol. “I did only have single-factor authentication; it was a complicated password, so I want to be clear on that — it was not a ‘Colonial 1-2-3’ type password,” Blount said.
Two-factor authentication requires a secondary way in – such as a mobile text or hardware token. The hack on Colonial, reported the FBI, was blamed on Dark Side — a Russia-based cybercrime organization. According to the Justice Department, about two million dollars of the Colonial ransom, paid with crypto-currency, had been recovered.
“I believe I was not involved in those conversations with the FBI,” said Blount. “But in discussions with my team, I don’t believe a discussion about the ransom actually took place the first day on May 7, but I do agree that their position is that you don’t encourage the payment of ransom it is a company decision to make.”
Ransomware is a type of malware — malicious software — which encrypts computer files and literally holds them hostage. Ransom is demanded from victims, sometimes in bitcoin, to release the files and make the transaction untraceable. The first line of defense for both individuals and companies is paying attention to the alerts.
“Updating their software, they systems regularly; patching things when those alerts come out, and making sure we’re up to date with those things,” said Eman el-Sheikh, who leads the University of West Florida’s Center for Cybersecurity. “Hackers are looking for vulnerabilities, so the more that we can prevent those openings or those cracks in the system, the better.”
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