Schools in the UK should be on alert after a spate of malicious phone calls from criminals are luring school faculty members into opening dangerous email attachments, Action Fraud UK reports.
Most ransomware attacks work by sending an email containing a malicious email attachment to the victim, with the hope that the recipient will read the email and be tricked into opening the attachment, and thus infecting their computer with a nasty ransomware infection. Ransomware encrypts your files and demands a ransom for the decrypt key.
[[Read more about what ransomware is and how it works here.]]
However cyber-criminals are stepping up their game, and are actually calling their victims on the phone, namely schools across the UK. In this case, the criminals are posing as the “Department of Education” and are requesting the direct email address for the schools head teacher, claiming they have sensitive documents that needs to be sent to them directly.
Action Fraud report that criminals are claiming these sensitive documents can be exam guidance documents or mental health assessments, depending on what variant you encounter.
Once in possession of the email address, the scammers send the malicious email attached to a ZIP file that, when opened, infects the computer with ransomware. Since most computers in schools are networked, this could potentially means information on any shared network drives are likely to become encrypted and useless without a decrypt key. Reports suggest the criminals are demanding up to £8000 for the decrypt key – money most schools cannot afford to lose.
The idea here is that accompanying the scam email with a prefaced phone call will make the scam more successful, and they could be right.
Action Fraud also state that previous similar scams have taken place with the criminals posing as either the “Department for Work and Pensions” and various telecom providers.
Some tips to avoid this type of scam –
– Never open up emails unless you trust the sender. Just because you received a phone call from someone, it doesn’t mean what they send can be trusted. Always verify that an email containing an attachment is trustworthy before considering any email attachment. You can always initiate a call to the people who apparently sent you the email to verify its contents.
– Just because a criminal knows the head teachers name and other information about a school, these can easily be obtained from the Internet and doesn’t mean the person on the phone is who they say they are.
– Make sure all security software is up-to-date
– Be aware that erroneous information or visible mistakes are a big red flag. For example, in some instances the criminals are saying they are from the “Department of Education” when it is really called the “Department FOR Education“.
– And perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY – ALWAYS have recent back-ups of all information on computers and network drives. If you can replace the useless encrypted files with a recent back-up, you’ll have little reason to fork out thousands of dollars to get your files back.