On May 6th, 2021, Colonial Pipeline fell victim to a ransomware cyberattack, which took down the largest fuel pipeline in the country and led to gasoline shortages on the east coast.
Then on May 30th, 2021, the largest meat producer in the world, JBS Foods, also became a victim of ransomware, closing down plant operations in the U.S. for a few days.
According to a cybersecurity consultant who responded to the cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, hackers gained access to their systems by logging on via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) using a compromised password.
Both attacks are examples of how major systems can be taken offline if the right measures aren't taken.
Cybersecurity expert and Assistant Professor for the School of Computing at the University of Utah, Mu Zhang, said both businesses and individual consumers need to take all the steps they can to prevent hacks like these.
"The attackers actually need to first find a vulnerability so they can get into a system," said Zhang.
To close these openings, Zhang recommends:
- Installing the latest security updates for your computer
- Using antivirus software and scanning for viruses often
- Changing your passwords often
- Using two-factor authentication
- Not opening emails if you don't know who they're from or opening attachments from an unknown email address
"It will be more useful to also to store an offline backup, which is not connected to the internet, so air-gapped," said Zhang.
The reason why an offline backup is important too is that ransomware hackers will usually delete your online backup, so they have the only copy.
This means you can only get it back if you pay the ransom.
Zhang said, "The victim should learn a lesson from this attack. Try to back up their data and store it in a safer place to prevent future attacks."
Ransomeware attacks may seem more popular right now because, every time a big company pays the ransom to get back their data, hackers are more motivated to do it again.
"The real-world incidents have shown that they can make a real profit," said Zhang.
Ransomware hackers tend to go after big businesses rather than individuals because that's where they'll make the most money.
This is why it's important for employees to take steps to prevent hackers from logging into workplace systems using their information.