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Ransomware attacks grow smarter, costlier to fight

Over the past few years alone, ransomware attacks have temporarily shut down Flagstaff public schools and cost medical systems and managed care companies millions of dollars.

Experts say attacks are becoming more sophisticated — and more expensive to fight.

“You’re never going to have enough resources to do everything that you think you need to do. And so, what kinds of tradeoffs are you going to have to make? And, if you're a small school, that's going to be a different ratio, or tradeoff, than a big school,” said Michele Norin, Chief Information Officer at Rutgers, which faced a ransomware attack last year.

Recovering from a ransomware attack begins with evicting the attackers, possibly by paying them off and blocking future access.

But it doesn’t end until forensic, legal and other experts are brought in to assess security, repair damage and help establish a “new normal.”  

Those expenses often aren’t covered by cyber-insurance, which grows costlier each year and, like state regulations, piles on more requirements.

“We are being asked to comply in particular ways or our rates are going to go up,” said Norin.

Experts advised running tabletop simulations, developing a communications plan and hardening key systems, including backups.

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Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.