IN FOCUS Discussion: Cybersecurity and ransomware

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The internet is a resourceful place, providing an abundance of options for communicating instantaneously with people around the world and storing, researching, and sharing information. However, it can also open up our lives to a new set of threats and risks that come from how intertwined we are with our digital devices and the online web. The hazards include hacking, phishing, malware, fraud, extortion, identity theft, and more.

These attacks, when increased to a bigger scale and aimed at large companies, can disrupt the distribution of resources we rely on daily. One example is Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest fuel pipeline that was forced to shut down after a ransomware cyberattack locked up their computer systems. The disruption caused long lines at gas stations in the Southeast and panic-buying among drivers, draining supplies at thousands of gas stations. The company ended up paying the requested ransom of $4.4 million in order for the gang of hackers, believed to be Russian, to send a software application to restore their network.

Later that month, JBS USA, the world’s largest meat producer felt victim to an organized cybersecurity attack, leading the company to immediately shut down I.T. systems for 174 of its international facilities. Two days later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was unable to offer wholesale beef and pork prices. JBS ended up paying the $11 million ransom through Bitcoin to the hackers, who likely belong to a criminal organization based in Russia. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council later said that private companies should not pay ransoms, concerned it would incentivize future attacks.

Dr. Mu Zhang, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Utah joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. He talked about how cybersecurity and ransomware evolved over the years, how the 2017 Wannacry Hack relates to the attack on Colonial Pipeline and JBS Meats, and whether countries have the ability to control or intercept cyber activity.

In part two of the discussion, Dr. Zhang addressed whether individual citizens need to be concerned about these types of attacks, the differences between the threats that companies face versus what individuals face, the factors that companies consider when it comes to paying a ransom, how these hacks typically happen, and what people can do to protect themselves on an individual level.

Matt Child, the CEO of Utah Independent Agents discussed how businesses and insurance companies have looked at cybersecurity over the years, whether the insurance industry looks at ransomware the same way as employee kidnappings, whether paying ransom is cheaper than rebuilding a company’s system all over again, how common cybersecurity insurance is in the present day, and what companies can do to protect themselves.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Dr. Zhang and Child, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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