Cryptocurrency fueling ransomware attacks, say cybersecurity experts

Local News

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Cybersecurity experts say there has been a shift from data breaches targeting health and credit card information to using ransomware to hold companies virtually hostage until they pay with cryptocurrency.

Ransomware is a type of malware that blocks access to a system until a ransom is paid, usually with cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, and even TV stations have been recent victims of ransomware attacks.

“Crypto has definitely enabled attackers to get paid,” said Anthony Mini, vice president of security and operations at Pearl Technology, an IT firm based in Peoria Heights.

Mini said he has seen an increase in ransomware attacks during the past six to eight months. He doesn’t see the attacks slowing down anytime soon, and said no industry is immune.

“There’s no industry that’s off the table here. If you have money and you’re worth planning an attack to, then you’re vulnerable,” he said. “Every company in the local area is at risk, 100% at risk for this, it’s only a matter of time where it gains popularity in these small or medium businesses.”

Mini said it’s important for companies to assess their vulnerabilities, and keep their users informed about ransomware and other cybercrimes like phishing.

“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so just getting out in front of that is probably the first thing that people need to do,” he said.

Jacob Young, director of the Cybersecurity Center at Bradley University, said the best defense against ransomware is for businesses to regularly back up data, so the data encrypted by the ransomware can be wiped and restored.

He also recommended businesses conduct “table top” exercises like penetration tests, where hackers attempt to infiltrate the system to find potential flaws.

“You can think of it as a ‘fire drill’ for every conceivable scenario. Performing the fire drills ahead of time allows the response to be more effective when a real incident occurs,” Young said.

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