Ransomware Victims Pay Much More Than Just the Ransom

Today’s topics include an analysis on the true cost of ransomware; Facebook awarding $100,000 for spear phishing security research; Google partnering with UC Berkeley to create an eclipse movie; and Microsoft giving Skype for desktops a mobile look makeover.

Ransomware has been a growing internet security attack tactic over the course of the past year—and the costs to businesses are far more than the ransom they pay to their attackers.

In a ransomware attack, an attacker installs malware that encrypts data on a victim's system and then demands a ransom in order to decrypt the data. In June, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center released its 2016 Internet Crime Report, providing statistics on $1.33 billion in victim losses from a total of 298,728 complaints about various internet-related crimes that were reported during the year. Looking specifically at ransomware, the FBI received 2,673 complaints, with a total of $2.4 million in losses.

The true cost of ransomware is much more than just the ransom payments made by victims, however, as businesses must also take into account the disruption to their operations, which is a non-trivial financial concern.

Facebook awarded the fourth Internet Defense Prize at the USENIX Security Conference in Vancouver on Aug. 17, giving the winning research team a $100,000 award.

The Internet Defense Prize was started in 2014 as an effort to encourage security researchers to investigate and develop new methods for improving internet security.

A team of security researchers from the University of California, Berkeley won the 2017 prize for a new approach to detecting credential spear phishing attacks. Spear phishing attacks, also sometimes referred to as "whaling," involve a targeted fraudulent email that is sent to a specific individual with the goal of tricking the user into clicking on a link or opening an attachment.

Members of Google's Making and Science initiative nd the Multiverse team at the University of California, Berkeley's Space Science Laboratory have teamed up on a project to produce a high-definition, time expanded video of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse using images from more than 1,000 amateur photographers and astronomers.

The group of volunteer photographers were stationed along the entire path of totality of the eclipse stretching from Corvallis, Ore., to Charleston, S.C.

The teams from Google and Berkeley will stitch together the crowd-sourced photos to create a continuous view of the solar eclipse as it traversed the United States. The dataset from the so-called Eclipse Megamovie Project will be made available to the general public and to the scientific community for further research. The goal of the Megamovie initiative is to study how the sun's corona changes over time.

Microsoft has released a preview version of its Skype software for desktop PCs that owes much of its look and feel to the iOS and Android versions of the app.

"For Mac, Windows 10 November Update and lower, Windows 8, and Windows 7 users, Skype Preview delivers most of the great features of our next generation mobile experience, but is specifically designed with desktop in mind to take full advantage of the larger screen," blogged Microsoft representatives on Aug. 17.

In fact, the new Skype for desktop computers borrows a lot from its mobile incarnations. It inherits many of the streamlined, chat-centric interface elements that previously set apart the Skype mobile apps from their desktop counterparts.