Ransomware attacks hit US courts, European universities

LONDON, England: Reuters has reported that a series of ransomware attacks affected servers belonging to Florida’s Supreme Court and several universities in the US and Central Europe.

According to figures collected by Ransomwhere, a crowdsourced platform that tracks digital extortion attempts and online ransom payments, the affected organizations are among more than 3,800 victims of a digital extortion campaign that locked up thousands of servers in Europe over the weekend.

Though not especially sophisticated, the speed of the attacks drew warnings from national cyber watchdogs.

In an interview with Reuters, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Paul Flemming said that the affected infrastructure was segregated from the Supreme Court’s main network and had been used to administer other elements of the Florida state court system.

"Florida Supreme Court’s network and data are secure," he said, adding that the remainder of the state court system’s integrity also was not affected.

Several academic institutions, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University and universities in Hungary and Slovakia, have not responded to requests for comment from Reuters.

The hackers appear to have only extorted $88,000, a modest amount compared with the multimillion-dollar ransoms demanded by some hacking gangs, Ransomwhere said.

The hackers exploited a two-year-old vulnerability in software developed by VMWare, which urged customers to upgrade to the latest versions of its software.

"This is nothing unusual. The difference is the scale," said Patrice Auffret, founder of French internet scanning company Onyphe, as quoted by Reuters.

Samuli Kononen, information security specialist at the Finnish National Cyber Security Centre, said many victims had managed to salvage their data without paying a ransom, indicating that the attack was was not particularly sophisticated.

"More experienced ransomware groups usually do not make that kind of mistake," he said, according to Reuters.