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Consumer Protection and Fraud: The Ongoing Cyber Threat of Ransomware




Ryan R Bradley

Illinois Consumer Protection and Fraud Attorney at Koester & Bradley, LLP

​For Illinois Consumers, Equifax dominates the headlines in cybersecurity, but Ransomware is a serious threat as well.

While large data breaches such at Target and  Equifax dominate the headlines, there are other equally frightening threats lurking on the internet that impact Illinois residents.  Illinois Consumer protection lawyers Koester & Bradley are still noticing a large jump in Ransomware attacks on individuals and businesses alike.  In fact, last week the city of Atlanta was attached and information necessary to run the entire city was held for ransom.  Are Illinois cities and consumers next?

Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your screen and prevents access to your computer and its files until you pay a ransom.  Ransomware is not just a problem for large companies and hospitals, it afflicts individual and small to medium sized business as well across Illinois. It has been around in different forms since the mid 2000s and attacks both businesses and individuals with the hackers committing the fraud demanding payment in largely untraceable bitcoin. According to cybersecurity experts Tom Barker and Chris Heuman of Virtual Auditor, unlike earlier ransomware that disabled your computer, recent forms of this malware encrypt your files, which makes their recovery far more difficult. If you don't pay the several hundred-dollar ransom by a certain date, your files will be destroyed.

Champaign Illinois Consumer Protection attorneys Koester & Bradley warn that while there's no guarantee against becoming a victim, there are several measures for Illinois consumers and businesses to take to make an attack less likely and less damaging:

Back Up Your Files
Make frequent file backups to lessen the impact of an attack.  We now know that for Illinois residents, and consumers across the country, it is more probable than not that you will be a victim of cyber crime.  Don't store these files anywhere that's reachable by your computer because the ransomware may find and encrypt them. If you're using an external device for your backups, keep it disconnected from your computer. If you're using cloud services for backup storage, make sure they retain previous versions of your files that you can roll back to in case your most recent files are encrypted.

Backup files make recovery easier because it's just a matter of reinstalling your backups after the malware is removed from your computer and represent the primary way to reduce the damage caused by an attack.

Be Careful With Emails

Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from unfamiliar sources. If the email content from a familiar source seems unusual, it could be ransomware that's exploiting a list of your contacts. When an email is suspicious but plausible, contact the source independently of the email and its attachments.

If you have any questions about an email, even if it is from a send that you do know, verify with the sender and do a Google search for scams that are similar to the email that you received.  

Keep Your Software Updated
Ransomware may exploit known weaknesses of various software. Software providers respond to recently discovered security weaknesses with new version updates that "patch up the hole." Update all software including your firewall and anti-virus.  Additionally, ensure that you computer operating system, usually either Windows of Mac OS, is kept up-to-date.  Moat time you can suet this for automatic updates.

If your computer gets infected, your safest bet is to erase the entire system and reinstall your operating system. After this, scan your computer with an anti-virus that can detect ransomware. Then you can load your files back into your computer from your backups. If your files and backups are infected, don't pay the ransom because you may not get your files back, or the ransomware may attack again. In addition, your money enables the criminal to continue his activities.

The above tips will reduce your risk of becoming a victim and will make recovery from such an attack less painful. If you were impacted by the Equifax breach, keep  these tips in mind to further protect yourself.  Finally, remember that the Illinois Consumer Protection Attorneys at Koester & Bradley are here to help should you become a victim of Cyber Attack. 

Consumer Protection and Fraud: Protect Yourself From Browser Security Threats




Cybersecurity has gained more publicity in light of recent hacks.  Here is what you can do.

Koester & Bradley Cybersecurity Attorneys

At Koester & Bradley we have focused our practice on helping the injured since 1895, but we also devote a great deal of time to consumer protection issues as well.  While physical personal injuries often have traumatic and lasting impact on the lives of entire families, financial and fraud-related claims can also have a severe impact.  

With cyber threats coming from a variety of sources, Koester & Bradley is dedicated to making sure our clients and community are continually kept up-to-date.

The Internet is full of threats, and if you're a long-time user of it, then you probably know not to click on suspicious links, to stay away from potentially dangerous sites such as porn and pirated movie websites. You may also understand that even websites that have no intent to do harm may fail to vet the safety of their advertisements. That is, clicking on their ads may send you to a dangerous website. However, even these precautions aren't enough for safe Internet use. The reason? Your browser itself may have security weaknesses that leave you vulnerable.

Cyber criminals are untiring in their search for ways to find and exploit loopholes in the software makeup of popular browsers. An example of this occurred earlier in 2017 when attackers used domain names with Unicode characters to set up  phony versions of popular and trusted websites. When viewed in the Chrome and Firefox browsers, the phony website and its URL appeared identical to the real site. Criminals can also obtain SSL certificates (with a green padlock) to make their websites appear legit.

All popular browsers respond to these types of threats by issuing updates that correct the problem. Therefore, the main takeaway from this is to keep your browser up to date. If it has an auto-update feature, make sure it's activated. Another precaution is to review the privacy and security settings for your browser. One setting you should deactivate is the password saving feature that many browsers offer.

Another security threat comes from using browser plugins or extensions. These give your browser extra functionality but are created by third parties who might be untrustworthy. Your best defense is never installing them. Otherwise, you should install as few as possible. Look for online reviews of the plugins you're considering. These reviews should also provide a rating. A rating based on thousands of votes is more reliable than one based on a few. Check the reviews for mentions of malware and other security problems.

Finally, create a Google alert for news about your browser's security. This will keep you informed of the latest threats to watch for.

Use the above tips to make your Internet browsing as safe as possible. For more information or to speak to one of our lawyers,  contact us.

Practical Measures for the Equifax Dilemma



With the recent hacking of Equifax, personal information of over 143 million Americans were compromised.  Identity thieves gaining access to an individual’s credit report allows them to open new accounts in the victims’ names.  A credit freeze is a security method that restricts access to an individual’s credit report.  New creditors would not be able to see your file and therefore would not be able to approve a new account and extend credit.  Under a credit freeze, existing creditors and debt collectors would still be allowed access to your credit report.  Government agencies may also have access to your frozen credit report with the use of a court or administrative order, a subpoena or a search warrant.  

A credit freeze will not prevent an identity thief from making charges to your existing accounts.  You should continue the process of monitoring all credit card, bank transactions and insurance statements to screen for fraudulent transactions.  A credit freeze does not affect your credit score and will not prevent you from acquiring your free annual credit report.  A credit freeze will also not stop you from opening a new account, applying for a job, buying insurance or renting a home but you will be required to lift the freeze temporarily for a specific time or to specific parties in order for these actions to be approved.  A credit freeze will not stop an individual from getting pre-screened offers of credit.  To opt out of pre-screened offers of credit for 5 years or permanently, you can call 888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or access the following website, www.optoutprescreen.com.  

You can place a free on your credit reports by contacting nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  You will be required to provide your name, date of birth, Social Security Number, current address and other personal information.  The fee associated with placing a credit freeze is between $5 to $10.  Each credit reporting company will send you a confirmation letter for your freeze request containing a personal identification number (PIN) or password.  You will need the PIN or password if you choose to lift the freeze at a later date.  
A credit freeze will remain in place until you request the credit reporting company to temporarily lift or completely remove it.  The cost of lifting a credit freeze varies by state.  The freeze must be lifted no later than 3 business days after the credit company receives your request.  

CREDIT FREEZE VS FRAUD ALERT: There is a major difference and trade off between protection and convenience.

We have compiled the most relevant differences to keep in mind when taking action

Credit Freeze
  • Will lock down your credit.
  • Can prevent someone from opening an account but will not prevent charges to existing accounts.
  • Fees associated with request for credit freeze.
  • Fees associate with temporary lift or permanent lift of credit freeze.
  • Obtained by calling nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  

Fraud Alert

  • Allows creditors access to your credit report provided they take the necessary steps to verify your identity.
  • Can prevent someone from opening an account but will not prevent charges to existing accounts.
  • Initial Fraud Alert - protects an individual’s credit accounts from unverified access for at least 90 days.  This alert is used for individuals have not yet been victims of identity theft but would like additional protection.  
  • Extended Fraud Alert – protects an individual’s credit accounts for 7 years.  This alert is specifically for victims of identity theft.
  • Active Military Fraud Alert – protects active military member’s credit accounts during deployment for 1 year.  
  • No fees associated with this service.
  • Obtained by calling nationwide credit reporting companies such as Experian (1-888-397-3742) and TransUnion (1-888-909-8872).  The nationwide credit report company must then tell your other credit reporting companies of your request and they will then place a fraud alert on their versions of your credit report.

As with any issue relating to credit and cyber security, being proactive and moving quickly is vital.   Attorneys are investigating the matter and are always here to answer questions.

Illinois Plaintiffs Lawyer Personal Injury Blog by Koester & Bradley, LLP 

Legal News and safety tips with Illinois Impact from the Accident and Personal Injury Firm Koester & Bradley, LLP


Ryan R Bradley is a personal injury and litigation lawyer based in Champaign County Illinois focused on representing injured clients and businesses navigate the maze of litigation to financial recovery.  

Tom Koester is a personal injury attorney based in Champaign County in Central Illinois focused on representing the injured and victims of Medical Malpractice and Personal Injuries.