Ransomware: The menace of today’s digital age

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Keyboard image

Ransomware is malware that infects a computer, encrypts the files to make them inaccessible, and then asks for ransom in exchange for the key that unlocks the encrypted files. In 2016, two Canadian higher education institutions, the University of Calgary and Carlton University, fell victim to a ransomware attacks. The attacks severely impacted the academic and administrative operations of both institutions for several days.

York University has experienced similar ransomware attacks over the past two years. In most cases, the University’s backup system successfully restored critical data and minimized the disruptions to operations. York University has never been forced to pay any ransom. Nevertheless, the frequency of attacks is increasing.

York University’s University Information Technology (UIT) has deployed a number of security technologies to mitigate these attacks. These proactive technologies, such as an email filtering system, anti-malware technology, and network-based prevention systems, protect against ransomware, but more is required. Vigilance on the part of University community members is also important in preventing ransomware and includes the following:

  • Do not click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email from people or groups you do not recognize.
  • Keep your anti-virus software up to date and enabled; York provides Trend Micro AV to all staff, faculty, and students at the University.
  • Keep your computer up to date, including key software such as your web browser, Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight or Java.
  • Use York network shared drives, or something similar that has a regular backup, to store important information, and ensure this information is stored not just on your local computer.
  • If you or your department maintain servers, it is important to ensure these servers are up to date from operating system and application layer perspectives.
  • If you suspect your computer is being attacked, shut down your computer immediately and contact your information technology support.

Additional help, resources, and updates:

For questions or concerns, contact UIT Client Services by email askit@yorku.ca or visit https://askit.yorku.ca.