CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Cybercrimes are on the rise — shutting down companies, cities, and most recently, the entire network of the top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline.
Ransomware is a type of malware designed to lock down a system and demand payment to regain access. This type of malware has become more popular within the last five years, and while big organizations are typically targets, experts say all Americans may be vulnerable to these hacks.
“We’ve seen police departments. We’ve seen school districts, hospitals, obviously, large organizations like Colonial Pipeline being targeted,” said Dimitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert.
In 2020, more than 2,300 U.S. government health care facilities and schools were affected by ransomware, according to the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft.
“They can get, in some cases, tens of millions of dollars in a single operation from a company that they target through this type of operation,” Alperovitch explained.
Experts saw an uptick in cybercrimes targeting health care systems nationwide last year due to COVID-19. While dealing with the pandemic, hospitals were also forced to deal with attacks that shut down computers, scrambled data, and knocked systems offline.
In December, hackers broke into theTreasury and Commerce department’s network — slipping malware into a company’s software upgrade, as part of a global cyber espionage campaign — gaining access to Fortune 500 companies and multiple U.S. federal agencies networks.
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As more of the world moves online, these attacks raise concerns about how safe computer systems are.
“If your billing systems are down if you don’t know where your customers are or how to take their orders, because your regular computers, your it network is down, that will still bring the entire operation down to its knees.
While the government and multiple billion-dollar companies are the primary victims, there are some ways to protect yourself from being a target. Cybersecurity experts urge the public to be on the for emails that seem too good to be true.
“They’re trying to get you to click on a link. So just be skeptical as an individual, whether you’re working for a company or just trying to protect your own personal information from cybercriminals, and if it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” Alpervoitch explained.
Alpervoitch says cybercriminals are getting more advanced, and are starting to steal a company’s data before locking up their systems, so they can demand ransom to unlock it, and not release it publicly.
He also said a lot of the ransom attacks come from Russia, which is also linked to the Colonia Pipeline shutdown.