British Columbia Law Firm’s Computer Network Hacked by Cyber-Extortionist

The Law Society of BC recently issued a warning to its members to be vigilant about their firm’s cyber security after a BC firm’s files were held captive by a hacker who encrypted them and tried to extort payment in return for restoring access. There have been similar cases in Ontario in the last year.

…the firm found that its computer system was hacked and paralyzed by a computer virus known as the Cryptowall Virus when the staff showed up for work on Monday, December 29, 2014. Notices appeared on some of the firm’s computer monitors stating “Your files were encrypted and locked with a RSA2048 key.” The firm was advised to contact an address within 12 hours and pay an extortion fee to have the encryption unlocked. The notices further advised that if the firm did not pay the fee within the stipulated time, the fee would double. Finally, without payment, the files would be “irrevocably broken” after 30 days. The firm sought the help of its computer technician and did not pay the ransom or click on links provided by the extortionist regarding payment that may have exposed the firm to other risks. The firm had backed up its information and with the aid of professional technical assistance, was able to resume operations with systems running normally. The firm contacted the police who provided the firm with information about the virus which was likely transferred through an email attachment.

“Ransomware” infections are becoming much more common recently and are usually spread by infected email attachments or website links that trigger a download. Another common type, Cryptolocker, will scramble all the data files on your computer with virtually unbreakable encryption. You learn you are infected when a pop-up window tells you that your data has been scrambled and will be deleted unless you pay a ransom within a very short period of time, typically 48 hours or so. The ransom is typically in the range of $100 to $300 and payable only in Bitcoins, a type of virtual currency that makes payments untraceable. It is a relatively low amount so you have an incentive to pay it as a nuisance; but as you are dealing with criminals, paying it does not guarantee that you will get your data back.

This story serves as a reminder to be vigilant about email attachments and the risks they can pose, as explained in the articles Avoid the Dangers of Email and Would You Take the Bait in a Phishing Scam? from the latest issue Cybercrime issue of LAWPRO Magazine.

And from the same issue, this article explains the importance of Being Ready with an Incident Response Plan.

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