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Weak passwords and ransomware infections go hand-in-hand

Weak passwords and ransomware infections go hand-in-hand

Did you know the first ransomware attack happened in 1989 by Joseph L. Popp, a Harvard-trained evolutionary biologist? As history tells us, Popp created the AIDS Trojan, known as the PC Cyborg, and sent 22,000 infected diskettes, labeled “AIDS Information - Introductory Diskettes,” to an international AIDS conference.

Unsuspiciously, the diskette did educate the user, but it also infected the user's computer. After approximately 90 reboots, the virus would encrypt files on the hard drive, and to reverse it, the price was $189 made payable to a P.O. box in Panama.

Although Popp's virus was easily defeated, it started a snowball effect across the digital world.

It's been 31 years since the first ransomware infection and we're still dealing with these on the daily. Research from precisesecurity.com, showed weak passwords caused 30 percent of ransomware infections in 2019.

“Weak passwords.” How many times do we see or hear this phrase? Ad nauseam, if you ask me. And, yet, a quick Google search reveals some of the most popular passwords of 2019:

  • 12345
  • 123456 (This one was used by 23.3 million victim accounts globally.)
  • 12345678 (This was chosen by 7.8 million data breach victims.)
  • 111111
  • test1
  • abc123
  • Password (More than 3.5 million people use this one to protect their sensitive information.)

It just doesn't make sense. Yes, we have what seems like a bajillion passwords to remember for access to various locations, physically and digitally, but taking the easy way out hasn't served us or the world well up to this point. It's only produced one of the leading cyberattacks used by cyber criminals — ransomware.

So, now what? I suggest we take control over our password/phrase creation and usage. My proposal is simple: Set aside some time to create a list of strong passphrases and/or words once every quarter, adding each time to the previous list. Schedule “password/phrase creation” into your calendar so you set the intention ahead of time. The result will be a list of passwords/phrases that can be used anytime: when asked to update, creating a new account, etc.

A Quick Tutorial

Creation: Think of a secret about yourself that only you or very few of your closest family/friends know. (To my knowledge, cyber criminals have yet to figure out how to hack brains to get information, so this seems like the safest, most secure information.) Then, create a passphrase, incorporating letters, numbers and symbols with your secret.

Example (DO NOT USE): Th3Qu1ckBr0wnF0xJump3d0v3rTheLazyD0g!?

Usage: Use a different, unique password or phrase for each account. Does this take time? Yes. Is it worth it to help prevent ransomware attacks? According to the statistics, yes, but this is something you have to decide for yourself by asking: “Is it worth my time to create strong passphrases and/or passwords to keep my sensitive information, such as access to my bank account or work life, safe?”

Lest we forget, Albert Einstein did define “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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