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University of California victim of nationwide ransomware attack

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The University of California is warning its students and staff that a ransomware group may have stolen and published their personal data and that of hundreds of other schools, government agencies and businesses across the country.

A cybersecurity attack has targeted a vulnerability in Accellion, a third-party vendor used to transfer files securely, the university said in a statement Wednesday.

We understand that the perpetrators of this attack posted screenshots of personal information online, and we will notify members of the UC community if we believe their data has been disclosed in this manner, ”the university said. .

The hacker (s) also sent out threatening mass e-mails threatening to post data in an attempt to scare people into giving them money, ”the statement read.

In an update on Friday, the university system said the cyberattack affected around 300 organizations, including universities, government institutions and private companies.

Other schools, including Stanford University School of Medicine and New York Yeshiva University, have reported that social security numbers and student and employee financial information have been stolen, and some have been stolen. put online.

The information was obtained in December and January when hackers exploited a vulnerability in a 20-year-old Accellion file transfer service, according to various reports. However, some organizations said they were only recently aware of the violation.

The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that private information of staff members and students at the University of Maryland in Baltimore was posted online this week. The school said a hacking group known as Clop gained access to Accellion in December, the Sun said.

The University of Colorado and the University of Miami said the files were accessed in January and included personal data and data on health, studies and research.

The Washington State Auditor’s Office reported last month that information on nearly 1.5 million jobless claimants was stolen.

Accellion issued a statement in March that it had closed all “known vulnerabilities” and that no news had been found.

Large-scale ransomware attacks seeking massive payments have hit several organizations in recent months.

In an unrelated attack, the computer system of one of the country’s largest school districts was hacked by a criminal gang who encrypted the district’s data and demanded $ 40 million in ransom, otherwise it would erase the data. files and post personal information about students and employees online. Fort Lauderdale-based Broward County Public Schools said in a statement Thursday that there was no indication that any personal information was stolen and that they were not making any extortion payments to the gang. ransomware.

A three-year epidemic of ransomware attacks has plagued government agencies, businesses and individuals. Most are Russian-speaking gangs based in Eastern Europe and enjoy protection from tolerant governments. The most sophisticated groups identify their targets in advance, infect networks with phishing or other means, and often steal data by installing malware that encrypts a network of victims.

Once the ransomware is activated, criminals demand money to unlock the malware and refrain from posting or selling stolen data. In the case of companies, this data can be trade secrets. In the case of retailers or government agencies, this could include social security, bank account numbers, and dates of birth.

Public school districts have frequently been the target of ransomware attacks. Overall, ransomware attacks have disrupted learning in 1,681 schools, colleges and universities in 2020 and at least 544 so far this year, said analyst Brett Callow at Emsisoft, a cybersecurity company. Seven districts published personal data.

The average ransom paid to hacking gangs has nearly tripled from $ 115,000 in 2019 to $ 312,000 in 2020, according to cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks. He said the highest ransom paid by an organization doubled last year to $ 10 million, from $ 5 million in 2019.

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