A Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack has resulted in file systems being taken out of action for seven days and considerable costs being incurred to resolve the infection.
Attackers succeeded in taking control of one of the college’s servers on December 30, 2016. When staff returned after the Christmas break they discovered the computer system to be out of action and essential files locked with powerful encryption.
The attackers had succeeded in locking a wide range of file types on network drives and computers. Unfortunately, the college was unable to recover the files from a backup. Administrators therefore faced a tough decision. To try to recover from the attack without paying the ransom and risk file loss or to give in to the attacker’s demands and pay for the keys to unlock the encryption.
Los Angeles Valley College Ransomware Attack Nets Criminal Gang $28,000
Due to the extent of the infection and the number of devices affected, the ransom payment was considerable. The attackers set the price at $28,000 for the decryption keys. The ransom demand was high but the college had little in the way of options.
The ransom note that was loaded onto the college’s X-drive said if the ransom was not paid within 7 days, the unique keys to unlock the encryption would be permanently deleted. That would likely have resulted in all of the locked files being permanently lost.
The college enlisted help from cybersecurity experts to determine the likelihood of files being recovered without paying the ransom. However, college administrators were advised to dig deep and pay the attackers for the key. While there is no guarantee that paying the ransom would result in viable keys being supplied, the college’s cybersecurity experts said there was a high probability of data recovery if the ransom was paid and a very low probability of data being recovered if the ransom demand was ignored. The likely cost of resolving the infection without paying the ransom was also estimated to be higher than attempting to remove the infection. The decision was therefore made to pay the attackers in Bitcoin as requested.
The attackers made good on their promise and supplied the keys to unlock the data. Now IT staff must apply those keys and remove the encryption on the server, network drives, and the many infected computers. Fortunately for the college, a cyber insurance policy will pay out and cover the cost of the ransom and resetting systems. However, there will be other costs that need to be covered, which will must be paid by the district.
Recovery from the Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack will not be a quick and simple process, even though the decryption keys have been supplied by the attackers. The district’s Chief Information Officer Jorge Mata said “There are often a lot of steps where there’s no coming back, and if you pick the wrong path, there’s no return.” The recovery process therefore requires care and precision and cannot be rushed. The process could well take a number of weeks. The main priority is to recover the email system. Other systems and devices will then be methodically restored.
Los Angeles Valley College Ransomware Attack One of Many Such Attacks on Educational Institutions
The Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack has hit the headlines due to the extent of the infection and high ransom demand, but it is one of many such attacks to have occurred over the past 12 months. Educational institutions have been heavily targeted by attackers due to the value of college and school data. Educational establishments cannot risk data loss and are therefore likely to pay the ransom to regain access to files.
In the past few months, other educational institutions in the United States that have been attacked with ransomware include M.I.T, University of California-Berkeley, and Harvard University as well as many K-12 schools throughout the country. Figures from Malwarebytes suggest that 9% of ransomware attacks targeted educational establishments.
How Can Educational Institutions Protect Against Ransomware Attacks?
There are a number of steps that educational institutions can take to reduce the risk of ransomware attacks and ensure that recovery is possible without having to resort to paying a ransom. The most important step to take is to ensure that all data is backed up regularly, including the email system. Backups should be stored on air-gapped devices, not on network drives. A separate backup should be stored in the cloud.
However, backups can fail and files can be corrupted. It is therefore important that protections are implemented to prevent ransomware from being delivered via the two most common attack vectors: Email and the Internet.
Email is commonly used to deliver ransomware or malicious code that downloads the file-encrypting software. Preventing these malicious emails from being delivered to staff and students’ inboxes is therefore essential. An advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan should therefore be installed. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of spam emails and 100% of known malware.
To protect against web-borne attacks and prevent exploit kit activity and drive-by downloads, schools and colleges should use a web filter such as WebTitan. WebTitan uses a variety of methods to block access to malicious webpages where malware and ransomware is downloaded. WebTitan can also be configured to prevent malicious third-party adverts from being displayed. These adverts – called malvertising – are commonly used to infect end users by redirecting their browsers to websites containing exploit kits.
For further information on SpamTitan and WebTitan, to find out more about how both anti-ransomware solutions can prevent infection, and to register for a free 30-day trial of both products, contact TitanHQ today.