Ransomware Attacks Increasing – Spotlight #357

Good Monday morning. It’s October 5th. Today is the 26th anniversary of the first World Teacher Day. Here is a PDF agenda with clickable links for the free online activities occuring all week.

Today’s Spotlight is 1,185 words — about a 4 minute read.

1. News to Know Now

a. The Russian hackers responsible for a major 2016 election disinformation campaign are now targeting conservative social media users while posing as a media outlet, according to Reuters.

b. Thousands of Tribune Publishing employees are angry after the company sent an email that said they would receive a $10,000 bonus for their hard work after they clicked a link. The link was a test to see if they would fall for a phishing attempt that had misspellings and other clues. Employees at the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and other newspapers are livid and many noted online that the company has endured recent layoffs. Read more at The Washington Post.

c. “Alexa, join our conversation,” is a new command Amazon has introduced to reduce the number of times you have to use the activation word. Apple and Google have also already introduced their 2020 holiday product lines. CNET has coverage.

2. COVID-19 Online Resources and News

Great Trackers
COVID Tracking Project
Johns Hopkins Dashboard or Animations
COVID-19 Forecast Hub
Google County Level Mobility Reports
Long-Term Care COVID Tracker

COVID-19 Tech News
DFW Airport to Install Ultraviolet Technology — NBC Dallas
Facebook pulls Trump ads tying refugees to COVID — The Hill
Govs. Cuomo and Murphy Launch Exposure Apps — New York
Rural Schools Struggle With Distanced Learning — NPR
Website offers place to grieve COVID-19 victims — Boston 25 News

3. Search Engine Optimization News

Google confirmed Thursday that two separate indexing issues affected its database beginning September 20. One dealt with mobile-indexing and the other with different versions of the same content. We saw one website of a couple dozen we monitor have issues that pretty neatly fit this timeline.

In other words, these little mishaps you read about almost never impact your sites, but with a couple of billion pages potentially affected, it’s bound to happen sooner or later, even if many of those pages are PTA Meeting Minutes from 2014.

Changing a website’s layout can also affect rankings even if the page’s content and URLs remain the same, said Google’s John Mueller in his weekly live chat. Any changes might be positive because the new layout provides better context to the content or negative because something isn’t properly configured. Don’t forget that Google now uses page speed and factors such as how a page updates as it loads to rank that page.

4. Also in the Spotlight — Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks had already hit Baltimore and Atlanta when we wrote about it last year. Small cities and organizations were also falling prey to what we called an insidious problem.

Ransomware attacks occur when hackers are able to take control of a computer system. To regain control, organizations will often pay what were once minor ransoms of several tens of thousands of dollars. Those payments can now reach several million dollars. One of the most famous ransomware attacks took place against Sony Pictures in late 2014 when salacious and embarrassing details from private emails and files were leaked by hackers believed to be sponsored by the North Korean government.

The Trump administration warned financial institutions last week that paying those ransoms may violate federal regulations related to money laundering and economic sanctions. Financial institutions are required to notify authorities if they have reason to believe that a transaction exceeding five thousand dollars is related to illegal activity.

The FBI had previously urged organizations to report all ransomware attacks while acknowledging that some entities chose to pay the ransom in order to immediately secure their data.

A ransomware attack on eResearchTechnology reported this weekend by The New York Times has slowed the clinical trials for a COVID-19 virus among others because the company sells software used in those trials. 

Researchers also learned last week that personal information about Las Vegas area students including their birth dates and grades were published online after the Clark County School District refused to pay a ransomware demand in September. Nearly 600 school districts have been attacked. Data was published online in five instances just last month.

If you run an organization, you need a computer security plan and the appropriate insurance. This problem isn’t going away soon and may now be more complicated than ever if organizations can’t simply pay after a ransomware attack.

Clinical Trials Hit by Ransomware Attack — The New York Times
Ransomware Victims Could Face Steep Fines — Krebs on Security
Sony Hackers Were Causing Mayhem Years Before — Wired
Students’ Personal Data Leaked, Post-Attack — Threatpost
U. S. Warns Insurers Against Paying Ransomware — Insurance Journal

5. Following Up: Apple vs. Epic

We’ve told you about Epic Games taking on Apple over its commission requirement that 30% of all revenues generated by apps are paid to Apple (or Google for Android apps). Now there’s news that Spotify, Epic, and Match Group have formed a coalition to fight those charges.

Read about the Coalition for App Fairness.

6. Debugging: Share Verified

“This is a time for science and solidarity,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video appearing on the UN’s Share Verified website. Go there now to sign up for daily or weekly briefings with nonpartisan information about the pandemic.

Most of the world won’t allow U.S. visitors. Let’s join them in beating back the pandemic.

Sign up here

7. ProTip: Amazon Prime Credits

Next week will feature the collision of Amazon Prime Days with Walmart’s new “Big Save Event” and Target’s “Deal Days” so plan on spending quality time seeing advertisements between now and then. Meanwhile the friendly folks at Tom’s Guide have a list of Amazon Prime Day credits you can qualify for before the shopping mayhem begins.

Credits, not coupons

8. Spotlighters Ask: Are Refurbished PCs Good?

Don’t forget to send us your Spotlighters Ask questions. We answer them all via email and post one each week. 

Yes, they’re sometimes a great deal. Major manufacturers and retailers refurbish devices and sell them at substantial savings. Any of those brand-name companies is a reputable source to buy from. Likewise a local shop with a good reputation may provide even better pricing or stay on the lookout for specific device types.

This Wirecutter buying guide for used PCs is excellent.

9. Screening Room: Nike Meets eSports

Nike launched a commercial in Asia celebrating e-sports. It’s a first for them and a pretty darn goofy look at this billion dollar market.

10. Coffee Break: Threes

The best online games and time wasters are easy to learn and play in a few minutes. Or you might play a bunch of rounds during the slow part of movie. It could happen. What an addictive game.

Here’s the web version. There are also mobile versions

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