Beyond the Build

Continuing Education

A Trip to the Dark Side and Back Again

A break in, or a ransom letter. An invitation to the dark web. It sounds like a movie plot, but it played out here last month.

A computer hacker waited until about 7:20 pm, when our office would likely be cleared out, and found an opening in our firewall, creating a username. He or she then virtually made their way through all our computers and locked them down. Around 6 am the following day, the team member who handles our IT noticed something wasn’t right, and kicked the hacker out. Unfortunately, a lot of damage was done in those overnight hours. Beyond our individual computers, the servers with our accounting files and job information were frozen. Plans, pictures, records. Everything.

As I understand, this was a “brute force attack,” where an individual rather than a virus does the work. We received a ransom letter that started out like this:

“All your files are encrypted, making it impossible to recover files without the correct private key. If you are you are interested in getting this key, you should proceed with the following steps.”

It went on to demand 3 Bitcoins. Fortunately for us, we had planned ahead. Our servers are backed up each hour in a Linux-based operating system (intentionally different from Windows) and stored in the cloud. If the building caught on fire, flooded or, in this case, got hacked, we are covered.

We resumed operations after a long weekend deleting all the encrypted files and implementing the backup files. Needless to say, an ounce of prevention, or maybe more, saved us. In this world we live in, anything is possible. I never would have dreamed we would be hacked, but because of the preparation, it was more like an attempted kidnapping.

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Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.