Harmonium LLC owned and operated by Jeremy Saldate is Tillamook County’s newest tech company with a focus on small business solutions for computer data storage and protection.
By Joe Warren
Considering the gravity of current issues, and the increasing number of hackers out there, no business computer is safe from being taken over by a virus. Worse still, computer viruses are becoming more and more difficult to combat.
Harmonium LLC is officially opening on June 1 after Saldate, a computer programmer and consultant, decided to locate his company in Tillamook last year.
“I was working for Intel in Hillsboro for nearly 10 years and was offered a buy-out, so I took it,” he said. “We moved to our beach house and I started working on this new company. In a nutshell, I take care of network security and data management.”
Saldate said there is a very real and growing need, especially for business professionals, such as attorneys, medical professionals, and financial advisors, to store their data and protect it from advancing viruses.
“As computer viruses have gone from mere nuisances to serious problems for businesses, we offer protection from them, and in some cases, methods to retrieve your information,” Saldate said. “One of the biggest threats to businesses today (in terms of data storage and recovery) is ransomware, a type of computer virus that has been around since the 1980s. Back then ransomware was almost a joke, but it has advanced to become such a serious threat that now it has the potential to spell disaster for business professionals.”
Saldate says that hackers will take over your computer, essentially shutting it down if you do not pay a ransom. Frequently it’s a hacker from another country. When small businesses report it to the FBI, often nothing happens, they tell busness owners to “pay the ransom,” normally around $500 or more in some cases.
If you pay the ransom, Saldate said, you become a target to be hit again, and worse, hackers often ask for increasing amounts during subsequent attacks. If you do not pay the ransom, you may never be able to access your data again.
“Some countries look at this as a legitimate business,” he said. “So the FBI or law enforcement often has no jurisdiction when you do get hacked. The FBI used to say ‘don’t pay the ransom’, but now with the latest versions of ransomware, they are recommending that businesses simply pay it.”
According to Saldate, underworld activities have become so well-organized and “user friendly” that virtually anyone, even non-technical users, can go onto the internet, download software, and launch an attack on anyone else.
“For business professionals, this really can be a ‘worst-case scenario’” he said. “And the government is focused on the big picture rather than the little guy, so that’s where we come in: by providing protection for business professionals.”
Saldate said that in 2014, CryptoWall was developed as a form of ransomware. “When it gets onto your computer, it encrypts everything on your computer and locks you out of your files,” he said. “You can’t access any of your files, and you can’t do much of anything other than follow the instructions to pay the ransom once you’ve been infected.”
“An ounce of prevention can work wonders in this case,” he said.
According to an article in the fall of 2015 from the San Diego Press Tribune, data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) shows ransomware continues to spread and is infecting devices around the globe. Recent IC3 reporting identifies CryptoWall as the most current and significant ransomware threat targeting U.S. individuals and businesses.
CryptoWall and its variants have been used actively to target U.S. victims since April 2014. The financial impact to victims goes beyond the ransom fee itself, which is typically between $200 and $10,000. Many victims incur additional costs associated with network mitigation, network countermeasures, loss of productivity, legal fees, IT services, and/or the purchase of credit monitoring services for employees or customers. Between April 2014 and June 2015, the IC3 received 992 CryptoWall-related complaints, with victims reporting losses totaling over $18 million.
In a recent LA Times article, they reported that Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a $17,000 ransom in bitcoin [a form of digital currency] to a hacker who seized control of the hospital’s computer systems and would give back access only when the money was paid.
The assault on Hollywood Presbyterian occurred Feb. 5, when hackers using malware infected the institution’s computers, preventing hospital staff from being able to communicate from those devices.
The hacker demanded 40 bitcoin, the equivalent of about $17,000.
“The malware locks systems by encrypting files and demanding ransom to obtain the decryption key. The quickest and most efficient way to restore our systems and administrative functions was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key,” a spokesman from the hospital said in the LA Times article. “In the best interest of restoring normal operations, we did this.”
The local solution is to visit with Saldate who has focused on small business solutions to this growing problem.
“The problem for small businesses is that the FBI is focused on disabling ransomware at the network level, resulting in little attention being given to reports submitted by small businesses,” Saldate said. “The other problem is the FBI has been so overwhelmed with requests for assistance that they are taking a triage approach, so small businesses often get left out in the cold, and in all likelihood they will not be helped by the FBI when this happens.”
Tips to protect yourself (also from the San Diego Tribune):
• Always use antivirus software and a firewall. It’s important to obtain and use antivirus software and firewalls from reputable companies. It’s also important to continually maintain both of these through automatic updates.
• Enable popup blockers. Popups are regularly used by criminals to spread malicious software. To avoid accidental clicks on or within popups, it’s best to prevent them from appearing in the first place.
• Always back up the content on your computer. If you back up, verify, and maintain offline copies of your personal and application data, ransomware scams will have limited impact on you. If you are targeted, instead of worrying about paying a ransom to get your data back, you can simply have your system wiped clean and then reload your files.
• Be skeptical. Don’t click on any emails or attachments you don’t recognize, and avoid suspicious websites altogether.
If you receive a ransomware popup or message on your device alerting you to an infection, immediately disconnect from the Internet to avoid any additional infections or data losses. Alert your local law enforcement personnel and file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.
Saldate is hosting a luncheon seminar entitled: “Ransomware – What is it? What is your best defense?” on Wednesday, May 25 at 11 a.m. in the Port of Tillamook Bay Conference Room at 4000 Blimp Blvd. Call 503-207-6400 to reserve your space.