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University of California pays out millions in Bitcoin after ransom attack

University of California pays out millions in Bitcoin after ransom attack

The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) paid out over $1.14 million in Bitcoin to hackers earlier this week, days after their data was held as ransom by a group of unidentified individuals.

Authorities are monitoring transactions and have passed the case on to relevant cyber-crime officials, as per reports on Tuesday.

UCSF affected

Hackers blocked a selection of data servers from the universityโ€™s overall computing network. Compromised data containing sensitive research information โ€” such as the UCSFโ€™s work on medical studies โ€” among other uncategorized data.

The affected servers were blocked by encrypted malware, masking the hackersโ€™ identities.

The incident first came to light on June 1, after UCSFโ€™s I.T. department raised concerns of and confirmed an isolated security incident on a โ€œlimited number of servers in the School of Medicine.โ€ the servers were isolated from the UCSF core network.

UCSF medical school at night. (Source: Linkedin)

All servers, at the time, were left inaccessible, and stolen data immediately encrypted to prove a hack โ€” instead of carelessness in data handling โ€” had been perpetrated.

In a release, UCSF said the data was vital to research for โ€œserving the public good,โ€ adding that the data that was encrypted is important to some of the academic work we pursue as a university serving the public good.โ€

This caused the school to make the โ€œdifficult decisionโ€ of paying $1.14 million to the individuals heading the malware attack.

Bitcoin paid, tool receivedย 

UCSF has since received a tool to unlock the encrypted data and the return of the data held by attackers, the release confirmed.

University officials told reporters their work on patient care, COVID-19, or general campus activities was unaffected. In terms of avoiding such an attack again, they said a team of security experts will be brought in to educate and eliminate such future threats.

Affected servers will be restored in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, UCSF said the incident highlighted the growing threat of malware by cybercriminals, although not blaming the use of Bitcoin in any way:

โ€œThis 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.โ€

Investigations are ongoing.

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