This week’s episode is about cybersecurity; specifically the threat of footholds, and was inspired by a recent cyber attack that forced the University of California to pay over a million dollars in ransom. The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has confirmed it paid a ransom totaling $1.14 million dollars to the criminals behind a cyber-attack on its School of Medicine. 

When cyber criminals want to infiltrate to your systems they will oftentimes first establish a minor yet persistent benign presence on a particular computer that serves as the foundation for more intrusive attacks.  This is what we call a foothold. Footholds are extremely difficult to detect and usually are disguised as legitimate files and and processes.  They are specifically designed to avoid detection by your antivirus software.  And often are hard for even a seasoned IT veteran to pick up on.  Because footholds are so evasive, cyber criminals can and frequently do maintain access to their victims’ systems undetected for extended periods of time.  This one of the reasons why so many security breaches go unnoticed for 200 days on average. Because footholds are so hard to detect, specialized software is needed to continuously monitor and analyzed our systems.  Once detected a foothold requires manual intervention by a trained technician to be removed. Footholds are not viruses.  Footholds are not malicious unto themselves.  They merely pry open the door to your systems just a hair.  Just enough to allow a bad actor to pry open the door a little more…and then a little more.  This continues happening until before you know it, you’re the victim of a data breach or full on ransomware attack like the University of California’s recent case.

These sorts of attacks are becoming increasingly prevalent.  And for good reason.  They’re hard to detect and most folks have never heard of them.  At Engler IT we take security seriously and we proudly make foothold detection and remediation available to small businesses regardless of their size.  Next time you’re talking with your IT professional be sure to ask about footholds and what they’re doing to keep them off your systems.

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