The rural sheriff’s department issued a statement claiming that over the weekend, hackers that were "likely based in India or possibly even Russia" hacked their day-to-day operational data and shut them out from an estimated 17 percent of their files. Ozarks First reported that the hackers demanded three bitcoins in payment, worth about $2,440 dollars at the time. The hackers then released the data, and the system was operational again on Monday, December 12.
While most hacks are done with the intention of acquiring secure or private information, ransomware hacks act to lock a user out of their computer or network unless the user completes a certain task, typically handing over cash. Microsoft reports that 50 percent of all ransomware attacks target Americans, with Italy in a distant second place at 13 percent.
Although the hackers kept their word and restored access to the files, there is no guarantee in similar situations that a hacker will follow through on assurances. A hospital in Wichita, Kansas, fell prey to a ransomware attack in May but hackers only released some files after payment. Extremetech reported that the hackers demanded more money, but the hospital refused to make a second payment, and some of their files were permanently lost.
On December 14, IBM published a study that showed a 6,000-percent increase in ransomware attacks between 2015-2016. Some 70 percent of victims paid the ransom, and 50 percent of those ransoms were at the level of $10,000 or greater. The ease of a ransomware attack and the lucrative potential has made it increasingly popular, IBM said. An estimated 40 percent of all spam emails sent in 2016 had ransomware files attached.
"Cybercriminals are taking advantage of our reliance on devices and digital data creating pressure points that test our willingness to lose precious memories or financial security," wrote Limor Kessem, executive security advisor at IBM. She dubbed ransomware the top security threat of 2016, with no signs of diminishing in 2017.
Some ransomware attacks can be reversed by data-recovery professionals, or avoided entirely by externally backing up data, a problematic practice when organizations or companies are saddled with terabytes of data stored in multiple locations on disparate platforms.