Across the United States, police departments have been the victims of scammers using ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that results from a successful phishing scheme or as part of a download from a site that is infected. Infected computers and computer systems are locked, for it to be unlocked, the victim must pay a “ransom” to the group or person who infected your computer and computer system.
For police departments that paid the ransom, the ransom demand was well under $5,000, usually somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $500 dollars. Failure to pay can result in destruction of files, including those containing evidence, witness statements, crime scene photos and more
Why Are Police Departments Preferred Targets?
In 2016, police departments in at least seven states were victims of ransomware. Many are small offices running antiquated computer systems with infrequent, if any, system backups.
Since the amounts ransomware criminals ask for is usually just a few hundred dollars, ransoms are often the easiest and cheapest solution to a ransomware virus. Yet, computer security experts warn, paying ransoms is not a good option as it only encourages criminals to make additional attacks.
Ransom is usually asked for in Bitcoins, a popular online currency. The cyber gangs even include helpful directions on how to purchase and send the ransom (in bitcoins) It is usual for the cyber gang to honor their promise of returning control to victimized police departments. Their customer service rivals that of upscale retailers and other high-end businesses. In fact, some of the gangs offer a free demonstration proving they can unlock your computer system – they open one file for you at no charge!
According to federal agencies, the attacks come from Eastern European cyber gangs. Finding and identifying these gangs is a major problem as the viruses are now nearly 100% automated. However, these same agencies know they cannot prevent ransomware attacks, catch the criminals using ransomware, nor get the data back. Some viruses are so complicated that even the FBI suggests paying the ransom. Though, the FBI states all they do is give options to police departments that are:
Personal Identifying Information Compromised When Police are Victims of Ransomware
Besides disrupting police departments, some of the data is highly personal. This includes reports of rape, domestic abuse and even open cases concerning sexual assault of children
Fortunately, protecting police departments from is easy.
How the Police Can Avoid Ransomware
Protecting police departments, and any other computer systems from ransomware require that the agencies practice good computer hygiene. Good computer hygiene includes:
Police departments should consider using a managed service provider for security issues.