NetWalker ransomware operators have persuaded the University of California San Francisco to pay over $1 million in an extortion scheme using data-encrypting malware. The attack, UCSF officials say, didn’t even target the institution.
UCSF’s School of Medicine is among those leading coronavirus-related antibody testing, Bloomberg reports. Yet the ransomware attack detected on servers inside its School of Medicine wasn’t even targeted, according to the IT department of UCSF.
“Our investigation is ongoing but, at this time, we believe that the malware encrypted our servers opportunistically, with no particular area being targeted,” according to a statement on the uscf.edu website. “The attackers obtained some data as proof of their action, to use in their demand for a ransom payment. We are continuing our investigation, but we do not currently believe patient medical records were exposed. As additional facts become known, we will provide further updates.”
USCF says it quarantined the IT systems within the School of Medicine as a precaution and claims to have isolated the incident from the core UCSF network.
“Importantly, this incident did not affect our patient care delivery operations, overall campus network, or COVID-19 work,” the university said.
However, according to the statement, the data corrupted by the NetWalker gang’s data-encrypting malware was nonetheless important to the academic work pursued at the university serving the public good.
“We therefore made the difficult decision to pay some portion of the ransom, approximately $1.14 million, to the individuals behind the malware attack in exchange for a tool to unlock the encrypted data and the return of the data they obtained,” UCSF admitted.
“This incident reflects the growing use of malware by cyber-criminals around the world seeking monetary gain, including several recent attacks on institutions of higher education. We continue to cooperate with law enforcement, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding that we are limited in what we can share while we continue with our investigation,” it added.
Such a lucrative payoff will not go unnoticed by rival ransomware gangs. Ransomware operators worldwide will undoubtedly take USCF’s move as incentive to strike the American education sector again.