Taking advice from the internet and using it in real-life situations is not usually a lifehack that I would advise; that being said, I am here to offer a bit of advice. If you ever open your mailbox and find a USB flash drive, please do not insert said drive into your computer unless you know who put it there and why they didn’t just deliver it to you directly. This may seem like common sense to most people, but residents of a Melbourne, Australia suburb did not seem to possess this rudimentary level of technological knowledge.
Police in Pakenham, Australia are currently investigating reports from numerous residents that mysterious USB drives have been appearing in mailboxes throughout the community. When inserted into a computer, the flash drive runs a program offering a free Netflix subscription. Once the user initiates the process of signing up for the service, ransomware installs itself onto the machine. For those unfamiliar with the technology, ransomware has become a relatively common method of predatory cyber activity. Ransomware works by encrypting files stored on the user’s computer, then charging the user a fee to unlock their personal files. The ransomware forces the user to pay the fee in Bitcoin so there is no trace as to where the funds are going to or who is receiving them.
So far, only three residents have stepped forward and admitted to being duped into installing the application, though police believe that others have been impacted and are too embarrassed to step forward. Over the past few years, large-scale organizations have been impacted by ransomware and have paid extreme amounts of money to unlock their files. One of the more popular targets of ransomware purveyors are healthcare organizations. One prominent example of this is an attack earlier this year on the Kansas Heart Hospital. Ransomware forced the hospital to pay over $17,000 (miniscule compared to the original request of $3.4 million) to unlock patient and personnel files and then demanded a second payment to unlock the rest of the files that were still being held captive. Experts claim that the ransomware problem will “get worse before it gets better.”
As students, and as humans in general, we love free stuff. Next time you come across a free flash drive in your mailbox, take a second to think of the potential costs that this “free” piece of technology may bring on you. Personally, I’d much rather pay the $10 for a new flash drive than run the risk of obliterating my computer’s integrity for free.