Monday, March 14, 2016

Information Security Alert: Locky Ransomware Attack

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware).  It encrypts your files on your hard drive and requires payment (usually $200-$400) in order to get the key needed to decrypt the files.  If you don’t pay, your data are forever inaccessible.  "Locky" is a new version of ransomware released in mid-February, and is often disguised as a Microsoft Word document attached to email. Here’s a sample of the email and Word document:
locky - sample email.jpg
(images courtesy of and
locky - ms word doc.jpg

The Word document often contains gibberish, and instructs you, the victim, to enable macros in order to view the document. Macros are small computer programs within MS Office applications (Word, Excel, etc.) that hackers can misuse to take control of your computer. Macros are disabled by default, and should only be used by experts. NEVER enable macros for a document received via email unless you are certain of the source.  If you don’t enable macros, Locky can’t harm your data.

What You Need to Know:

Cyber criminals have kicked off a new email campaign that tries to trick you into running malicious software on your computer. If you receive the email and follow the instructions, you will lose access to all of your files and be forced to pay a ransom to regain access to your files.

What You Should Do:

If you receive a mysterious message with a Word or Excel attachment, do not enable macros. Mark the message as spam and delete it.  If you are suspicious but unsure, call the ITS Help Desk for assistance at (651) 696-6525 or email If you were fooled into opening a suspicious email, please call the Help Desk immediately.

As always, be skeptical of emails that:
  • come from unknown users
  • contain attached files that you were not expecting
  • threaten adverse consequences unless you take action, such as:
    • “Your email account will be closed unless you…”
    • “Your bill is overdue and will be turned over to a collection agency if you don’t…”
  • offer something that is too good to be true, such as:
    • “You’ve won a new iPhone! Click here for more details…”
    • “The first 500 to respond will win a vacation to Las Vegas…”

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