#CyberFLASH: How cyber criminals are holding small companies to ransom

0522ransomwareTypically, people complain about lawyers holding them to ransom, but sometimes, it’s the other way around. Back in January, the Law Society of British Columbia reported that three law firms in the province had been attacked by a unique form of computer malware. Online thieves from halfway around the world had locked up the files on lawyers’ computers, rendering them inaccessible — and the lawyers were charged a hefty fee to get them back.

Crooks carry out this kind of attack using a category of malicious software called ransomware. It is a growing threat, and in just a few months, the number of attacks on high-value B.C. businesses have grown.

“The Law Society is aware of at least seven instances where law firms were targeted by ransomware,” David Jordan, spokesman for the society, said this month. The society would not reveal the names of the firms involved.

Ransomware infects computers much like any other virus. Victims “catch” it by visiting malicious websites, which they may be fooled into visiting by a spam email. In one case, emails contained phoney FedEx and UPS tracking notices with links that take victims to a site that immediately infects their machines.

Instead of simply stealing passwords or using an infected computer to send spam as many other viruses do, ransomware is particularly devious. It will systematically scramble the files on the victim’s computer, locking them with a digital key to which only the criminal has access.

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