SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The pandemic last year really increased the prevalence of ransomware attacks, as people surfed the net much more to connect with others.

In fact, they nearly doubled from 2019, to over 300 million in 2020. President of Northeast IT, Joel Mollison knows how difficult it is to track down those behind them.

“They are in foreign countries, different entities, they come and go, they pop up and disappear. The FBI is involved but there is so much going on so the reality is, they cant trace every single one back, and catch the culprits,” said Joel Mollison.

Mollison told the 22News I-Team ransomware attackers block access to data on a computer system by encrypting it, until the victim pays a ransom fee. That could be in U.S. dollars, or in untraceable cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin. The average downtime after a company experiences an attack is 21 days.

“Most of the time the systems are so damaged, you have to build from the ground up,” said Mollison.
COVID-19 increased the number of malicious emails by 600 percent, but you’re only vulnerable if you engage.

“Most people are as strong as they can be,” said Mollison. “You are only as strong as your weakest link, and that could be somebody clicking on a link from an email to a website that is bogus.”

Speaking on the same topic, Andrew Doty, Chief Information Officer for Springfield said, “Bottom line, don’t ever be embarrassed. Understand there is one of you, and there are a lot of people out there trying to get at your data.”

Doty said their IT Department is constantly monitoring threats, and upgrading their defenses.

“It’s a constant battle between, they get smarter and bypass systems, and security and we get smarter because we build better security, its a never ending cycle,” said Doty.

Ransomware attackers have also been known to go after hospital systems, something Baystate Health’s IT Department is well-aware of. They’re confident with their security measures, but they need to keep them private so the bad guys don’t get an edge. Employees vigilance online is critical to the entire security operation.

“We all have a role in protecting the systems, our patients,” said Tina Basch, Vice President of Baystate Health’s IT Department. “Which is why education is so important. This isn’t an information security problem, its a business problem.”

In 2020, there were 58 successful ransomware attacks in Massachusetts, resulting in over $2 million lost for the victims. The FBI warns against paying the ransom, since it doesn’t guarantee you will get any data back, while at the same time encouraging cybercriminals to target more victims.

Data shows that half of the victims who pay the ransom are likely to suffer from repeat ransomware attacks, especially if their system isn’t cleaned out. The FBI asks you to contact them, if you or someone you know falls victim.