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NE Wisconsin experts explain ransomware cyberattacks and how you can protect yourself from hackers

Posted at 10:19 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 23:40:25-04

GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) -- It's the type of threat that's shut down an entire U.S. pipeline, leaving gasoline prices and supply in question.

But University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor Gaurav Bansal says these attacks happen every day.


"Somebody from outside the U.S. or anywhere in the world basically hacks into a company's system and then it kind of freezes it, Bansal said. "And then [the attacker] asks you to pay money. That's called ransomware."

Bansal, a Management Information Systems teacher and business expert, says ransomware cyberattacks aim to control a victim's computer and steal personal information. The hacker usually wants a person to pay money to get their data back.

"[Companies pay a ransom to] make sure their systems are up and running once again," Bansal said. "And [the] second thing [is to ensure] these hackers don't publish that information on these leak websites."

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The tech expert says outdated computer systems are easy targets for ransom attacks.

"If the organization itself is sitting on a crumbling hardware, that makes it even easier for these people," Bansal said. "Because now you have access to a system that is already weak."

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College CIO Dan Mincheff says nine times out of 10, these cyberattacks are caused by one person opening a suspicious email.

Colonial pipeline cyberattack
Traffic on I-95 passes oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J. on Sept. 8, 2008. Oil prices rose above $108 a barrel Wednesday, sept. 24, 2008 as investors waited for details of a proposed $700 billion plan to buy bad mortgage debt and stabilize the U.S. financial system. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

"Quite frankly, these come in as simple as a fishing attempt, a fake email asking you to click on a link that you've won a prize, that there's a problem with your account," Mincheff said.

Other than picking up a ransom, Mincheff says hackers can get plenty of money for someone's personal details.

"They're selling that data," he said. "So there's real revenue for them to get at this data, to take credit card information, social security numbers and all the personally identifiable information that's out there."

Once you're hacked, Mincheff says there are only a couple ways to get your data back: pay the attacker or start over.

"You can pay the ransom and you may or may not get the key to get your data back," Mincheff said.

Though experts say ransom cyberattacks don't often happen to individual people, there are some ways these local tech professionals say you can protect yourself.

If you didn't ask for a message or email Mincheff says 'don't click on it.' He also advises you make sure you have multiple copies of your information stored somewhere else. Bansal says employees and companies should be mindful of the information they are reading or receiving.