As ransomware becomes an increasingly popular tactic of cybercriminal warfare, academic institutions are becoming the latest targets. Most recently, the University of Calgary appears to be the first university to publicly acknowledge that it has been hit by a ransomware attack.

University of Calgary Is the Latest Institutional Target to Pay Up

In late May, the University of Calgary paid $20,000 CDN to hackers in an effort to acquire the necessary decryption keys and begin the process of restoring sensitive files and data. Reports indicate that the university’s IT department required eight days to bring email servers back into safe operation. As of the second week of June 2016, the decryption keys and the university’s files were still being carefully—and slowly—restored.

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Industry Experts Acknowledge Limited Options When Faced With Ransom Demands

The fact that the university elected to pay the ransom in the first place has come under intense scrutiny, because the payment of ransom is often seen as a reward that encourages criminal activity in the first place. But Carl Fransen of CTECH Consulting Group in Calgary says it’s not that straightforward; in certain industries, people’s livelihoods may be at stake.

Mr. Fransen commiserates with victims of ransomware and the often contradictory position they are put in between securing their client’s files and preventing the propagation of criminal activity: “What’s [their] choice? Taking the moral road . . . or saving [their] livelihood?” He acknowledges that victims of ransomware attacks have an extremely difficult choice to make between standing their ground and protecting their life’s work—not an easy choice when you are an institution that depends on students’ and faculty’s ultimate productivity and success for survival.

Ransomware Attacks Increase 20 Percent In Three Months

In an IT security report from Symantec, the number of ransomware attacks is said to have increased by at least 35 percent since 2014. In Canada, it is believed that ransomware attacks have increased 20 percent in just the last three months.

Because the attack is considered criminal activity, the Calgary police have stepped in. While they don’t encourage or discourage a victim of ransomware when it comes to making the choice to pay a ransom, they do advise that citizens take preventative measures: Be cautious when clicking around on the internet; keep virus and anti-malware programs updated, and be sure to back up all information regularly.

Steps You Can Take to Reduce the Chances of a Ransomware Attack

The RCMP recommends taking the following precautions to protect yourself and your devices against a ransomware attack:

  • Don’t click on random pop-ups that alert you to a potential computer virus. If you think you may have a virus, run a full scan with a reputable virus-scanning software program instead. Be sure to keep all anti-virus and anti-malware programs updated, and scan regularly.
  • Don’t click links or attachments from email senders that you don’t recognize—and if the email attachment or link is unexpected, even when it comes from a trusted source, be extra cautious. Confirm first with the sender outside the suspicious email as to whether the attachment was intentional.
  • Utilize your browser’s pop-up blocker.
  • Don’t download anti-virus offers from pop-ups and email advertisements. This is a favorite method for hackers to engage their victims with ransomware Trojans.
  • Be sure to back up your important data regularly—and make sure when you do, you back up with a reputable cloud provider or locally in a secure, trustworthy location.

CTECH Consulting Group is your local, trusted industry leader for the most innovative, advanced IT security methods on the market. We specialize in keeping your business and your livelihood safe and secure against the ever-evolving threat of ransomware and malware. If you need assistance defending yourself against ransomware and other cyber threats, contact us at (403) 457-1478 or reach out to us by email at for more information.