Ransomware crimes are on the rise in Utah
According to the FBI, ransomware crimes cost Utah businesses millions of dollars a year.
Ransomware is a malicious software designed to infect computer systems and encrypt data. The hackers behind the ransomware take control of data and demand money from users to get it back.
Dennis Rice is the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake division. He says this crime is more costly than many people realize.
“So for just the state of Utah over the last three plus years, we've had 81 reported incidents of ransomware," he said. "One particular payment I mentioned earlier about $14 million almost $20 million another company paid over $13 million.”
Rice says hackers will send what’s called a phishing email to someone in a company that sets off a chain reaction.
“Because it just takes one email, one phishing email can infect an entire network because you are a trusted user or a node if you would on that network," he said. "And they might potentially, they might potentially have gotten into some contact that you know, and you're getting an email now from that individual’s email, which is malicious because they've been able to penetrate their computer or network.”
Rice says most people who’ve been attacked by hackers, and had their data held for ransom, don’t want to talk about it. School districts and real estate and financial businesses in the area didn’t respond to requests for comment about their experiences with ransomware attacks.
Steve Peterson is a business technology manager at Nexus - a software company that specializes in cyber security. KPCW uses Nexus to protect against attacks. Peterson says local businesses are attacked at least twice a week.
“And so there's a lot of companies that are maybe one or two employees big and build commonly say, Well, I, I'm not a target, nobody wants my data," he said. "But those are typically the employees that are the companies that will get attacked. And we kind of say in our industry, it's not a matter of, of if, but more like when you'll be attacked just because it's so common nowadays.”
According to Rice, most ransomware hackers live in Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. One of the industries they target frequently in Utah is the financial industry - specifically the home-buying sector.
“If you're trying to buy a home, and you're working with your title and loan company, and they're telling you, okay, you're going to transfer your life savings that you have invested in your last home into your new home," he said. "And a hacker gets in and compromises that system, and they send you kind of a fictitious email that looks legitimate from the person that you've been working with. And now you send your life savings electronically is as the payment. The hackers are stealing that.”
Rice says if a ransomware infection happens the first step is to call the FBI and report it. He also recommends keeping up with digital hygiene such as backing up data and updating security software on a consistent basis.