As most are well aware, it is generally advisable to avoid discussing the taboo table topics of politics, sex, and religion. Coming home for Thanksgiving break, the impending doom of discussing all three loomed on the horizon. With the combination of the controversial results of this year’s election, the lack of romance in my life and the lives of the other young adult females in my family, and the personality of my devoutly Jewish family, my Thanksgiving experience had the potential for disaster. Naturally, I was hesitant as I pulled into my aunt’s driveway, anticipating a barrage of questions from elderly Aunt Sarah and every extended family member possible. The one conversation I didn’t expect, however: my grandmother’s hostage situation.
Let me clarify: my grandmother was not physically taken hostage, although I would pity the poor fools who would think to try. Rather, her computer was taken hostage. On the bitterly cold night of November 4th, my grandmother sat down at her desk to muddle through the befuddling technology of the coming age, when a disconcerting message popped up on her screen. Her computer had been taken hostage, and in order for her to unlock it, ransom-ware demanded she call the specified number. Upon calling, a voice instructed her to pay a ransom fee of $200 in bitcoin, a request she complied with. Within a few hours, her computer was unlocked. Despite a thorough lecturing from her son, my grandmother did get the final word. Bank of America refunded the entire payment. Certifiably badass move, Grandma.
As it turns out, ransom-ware, a type of hacking, has become a significantly larger issue in the technological world within the last year. It works similarly to other hacking and virus programs, albeit in a more sophisticated manner. All the files on your computer become encrypted, and in order to access them, you must pay a fee to obtain the decryption key.
The most notable incident occurred at a hospital in Los Angeles this past February. Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital had their own altercation with the hackers, who locked every computer and demanded a fee of $17,000. Computers remain essential for access to patient records, as well as administrative functions, so the hospital determined it was in its best interest to pay the ransom fee. Other hospitals, including MedStar Health and Georgetown University Hospital, continue to add to the list of victims.
Now it appears that the hackers target even common civilians, such as my grandmother, her friend, and countless others. The FBI continues to pursue hackers and suspects certain attacks are connected. As a whole, the job proves to be a large-scale operation as ransom-ware fiends may network, but they all run their own operations. The idea of encrypting information as a form of malware is not a new one, and with the developments of refined techniques, it has made the issue of cybersecurity a nationwide concern in 2016.