Here’s a scenario right out of a Neal Stephenson subplot or The Good Wife a couple seasons ago: One morning, you log onto your computer, only to find that all of your irreplaceable files have been cryptographically locked. Someone else holds the key, and that someone will only unlock your data if you pay them cold, hard cash. Like a good citizen, you go to the police, then to the FBI in order to find someone who can help, only to be told, “just… pay the ransom.”
The former is an actual quote from the guy in charge of the cyber-crimes unit for the Boston office. This is the world we live in, and sadly, what’s happening makes a certain amount of sense.
Here’s the deal: In the modern age of strong encryption, when something gets locked, it stays locked. If you have an NSA-caliber datacenter, you might be able to unscramble your files. The NSA, however, aren’t likely to unlock their most powerful tools for any some poor schmuck who clicked on the wrong link. The FBI is presumably investigating those responsible for these ransomware attacks—they just can’t do anything right now to help the victims. In the meantime, the malefactors responsible for these attacks have raked in $18 million of their victim’s money.
Here’s a small silver lining that some might find amusing. The most common victims of these ransomware scams appear to be police departments themselves. In April of this year, the Tewksbury, MA, police department was forced to pay $500 in Bitcoin due to a ransomware attack. Two years earlier, the same situation happened to the police department in Swansea, MA. Police departments all over the country have been affected.
I, for one, find this incredibly laughable. The police are often no help at all regarding cybercrime, even when threats against life, limb, and property involved. If the police can’t help us, the least we can do is get a chuckle when they fail to help themselves.
[Post image via Shutterstock]