Ransomware alert up in US, Canada: more details

Ransomware threats are now the subject of a joint alert in both the US and Canada, with at least 14 hospitals under attack on both sides of the border. Ten of the hospitals are part of MedStar in Maryland [TTA 26 March, updated], and as your Editors have noted, it’s not just hospitals but also Mac iOS under attack and now, reportedly, even police and cafes (Telegraph.ukNPR). $24 million was lost to ransomware in 2015 in the US alone, according to the FBI. Healthcare IT News reports a new variation called PowerWare which is delivered through MS Word documents, but goes further than Locky in mimicking legitimate files and activities without writing new files on the system, which makes it hard to detect. It invades PowerShell which is used by system admins for task automation and configuration management.

If you are catching up and want a useful overview, see Wired. The headline states the obvious, at least to this Editor. Hospitals and their often-flawed IT managed by overworked staffs are the perfect target for ransomware and multiple viruses as lives are at stake, not widget production. Like most malware and internet Bad Things, ransomware originated in Eastern Europe (where else?) back in 2005. Most attacks include instructions on how to access bitcoin, the untraceable payment method demanded by the hospital hostage-takers.

How to prevent or mitigate? NPR cites Peter Van Valkenburgh, director of research at Coin Center, a digital currency advocacy non-profit, that hospitals can take safeguards including HTTPS encryption, two-factor authentication and implementing file backups on a separate server.

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