Security & Fraud

Hackers Deliver Ransomware — With Customer Service

Law enforcement officials and security firms say many cybercriminals are now professionalizing ransomware by borrowing customer service or marketing tactics, Reuters reported on Tuesday (April 12).

Some hackers even go as far as employing graphic artists, call centers and technical support in order to help streamline the payment and data recovery processes used for their malicious activities.

“It’s a perfect business model, as long as you overlook the fact that they are doing something awful,” Delphi Technology Solutions President James Trombly told Reuters, adding that his company has assisted multiple clients with paying bitcoin ransoms over the last year because many victims feel it’s just easier to pay than fight.

In many cases, the hacker operations use underground call centers or email response groups to help walk victims through the process of paying the specified ransom amounts and restoring data. Graphic design artists are used to craft clear and concise ransom demands and instructions, often in multiple languages, Reuters said.

While ransomware threats are nothing new, authorities say the sophistication and prevalence of the attacks have increased greatly in recent years due to the ability to infect numerous computers on a single network, the use of modules that can corrupt backup systems and the proliferation of advanced encryption tools.

“This threat is real and something that needs to be dealt with,” Jonathan Block, desktop support services manager for the Pearland Independent School District near Houston, which Reuters said recently refused to pay $1,600 in ransom demanded from hackers in attacks earlier this year.

Last month, government officials in a New Jersey city were essentially held hostage via bitcoin ransomware due to being locked out of their computers. But, in this case, officials refused to pay up and called on law enforcement to scare off the hackers.

Malware designed to take down entire computer systems is reportedly the type that's showing up in numerous headlines and has been on the rise across the U.S.

In fact, in 2015, the FBI received roughly 2,453 complaints related to ransomware malware attacks, which amounted to $24.1 million in losses for victims.

“Definitely a growing threat,” FBI Special Agent Chris Stangl told The Washington Post last month. “Success breeds more activity.”

While the initial ransomware demands are often small amounts, it adds up. And it also compromises another key factor: data security.

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