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Pondera FraudCast

Welcome to the Pondera FraudCast, a weekly blog where we post information on fraud trends, lessons learned from client engagements, and observations from our investigators in the field. We hope you’ll check back often to stay current with our efforts to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in large government programs.

City of Atlanta Victimized by Ransomware

City of Atlanta Victimized by Ransomware

Imagine walking in to work and being handed a printed out note instructing you to not turn on your computer because of a ransomware attack. Then imagine that you are instructed to monitor your personal bank accounts because your employer is unsure exactly what information has been compromised. For city employees in Atlanta, they don’t have to imagine. They are living this nightmare after the city was hit last week by SamSam Ransomware.

The city is working with federal law enforcement after the hackers demanded a $51,000 payment to turn control of the computers back to the city. And Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, turned off their WiFi out of “an abundance of caution”.

Ransomware, which is malicious computer code that often enters networks after users click on a link in a phishing email, is the most “popular” form of malware. In effect, it renders your data unusable until you pay a ransom to reclaim it. In 2017, a business was attacked every 40 seconds and individuals were attacked every 10 seconds by ransomware, according to Kapersky Security. A recent IBM study concluded that 70% of businesses have been hit by ransomware with half paying more than $10,000 to regain their data.

Despite recent prosecutions (for example, a Russian judge sentenced the criminals behind the Blackhole malware to up to eight years in prison), it is still extremely difficult to locate and prosecute the hackers because many of them operate from overseas. And now, even novice computer users can get in on the scam via Ransomware as a Service sites on the dark web. These sites allow you to configure and run your own ransomware campaigns without having to be an expert coder.

This combination of high success rates, easy access to ransomware code, and difficulty with prosecutions means that ransomware attacks are only going to increase. As employers and as individuals, it’s critical that we remain vigilant or we’re all going to end up victims.
The WannaCry Attack

The WannaCry Attack

By this time, just about everyone has watched or read a news report about the WannaCry ransomware attack that hit the world’s computer networks on May 12th. Multiple variants of the program will likely attack computers for the foreseeable future, forcing individuals to pay bitcoin ransom or lose their data and causing serious harm to businesses including hospitals and governments.

Plenty has been written about the source of the attack and how it works. So, while every “connected” person should read about WannaCry to help protect themselves against future attacks, I don’t see any need to cover this ground here. For me, though, two interesting facets of the story really stand out.

First, I find it fascinating and somewhat inspiring that the attack was stopped by a 22-year-old vacationing cyber analyst who goes by the name MalwareTech; with assistance from his colleague Kafeine. These two, and countless others, operate in a world that most of us know almost nothing about to keep our systems safe. It reminds me of the classic Jack Nicholson speech from “A Few Good Men” where he excoriates Tom Cruise for challenging him while he protects our safety. Of course, in this example, there is no evidence of MalwareTech or Kafeine “fragging” any of their tech colleagues.

The second interesting point I took form this attack was that most of us could have protected ourselves simply by updating our operating systems and virus protection software. This is a conversation I’ve had innumerable times with my own family. Of course, this also puts software manufacturers in the difficult position of patching years-old operating systems to accommodate those who won’t or can’t upgrade.

Bottom line for me: this is just another reminder to remain vigilant and to be thankful for the computer techs who have dedicated their careers to protecting us from those who have chosen to attack us. I hope you can “handle that truth”.

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