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Ransomware Risk Triggers UofU Warning

Jenn Vargas
University of Utah information technology officials sent out a community-wide warning about downloading ransomeware that could affect personal and university computers.

University of Utah information security officials urged the staff, faculty and students on Friday to be on alert for ransomware.

It’s software that installs itself on a computer, encrypts its data and makes files inaccessible without an encryption key. Hackers basically hold the computer hostage until they receive payment of hundreds or thousands of dollars for the decryption key.

Dan Bowden, chief information security officer for the university and its medical system, says he’s “paid to be paranoid” about malware like this.

“Much as you would do if your tire was wheel-locked in the parking lot,” he says, “you pay a guy to show up with a key to unlock your wheel and let you take your car.”

Bowden says recent attacks on hospital computers elsewhere have put important functions at risk. But individuals can be victims too.

He advises: “Backing up your data, bookmark the sites you use routinely, and then within email, watch out for unsolicited email, and then watch out for attachments and weblinks in email as well.”

Bowden also recommends staying away from files with double extensions, like “pdf.exe.”

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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