Fans of Netflix's popular series, Orange is the New Black, got an early, albeit illegal, gift last week. A hacker who calls him or herself "The Dark Overlord" obtained copies of episodes from the upcoming, unreleased Season 5 of OITNB from Larson Studios, the show's post-production company. The Dark Overlord demanded payment in exchange for not releasing the stolen copies. Netflix refused to pay. Hours later, The Dark Overlord released the Season 5 episodes and announced on Twitter where they may be viewed on the Internet.
While the incident is still under investigation, cybersecurity industry professionals believe The Dark Overlord infiltrated Larson Studios' servers using a phishing attack to obtain employee email and login credentials.
This type of attack - penetration of a system, seizure of valuable files, and extortion - is becoming more frequent. The most common attack of this sort involves implanting "ransomware" into a company's server and email system. "Ransomware" is malware or other disruptive code that rewrites or encrypts files on the victim's computer or system, rendering the files useless. "Ransomware" victims can recover their files only by paying the hackers to reverse the rewritten or encrypted files.
It's not hard to imagine the catastrophic consequences that would befall an organization that stores trade secrets - e.g., customer lists, price lists, product formulas - on its servers. The victim would face a Hobson's choice - pay the hacker's exorbitant ransom demand or see its secrets released on line or its files irreparably corrupted. The best defense to a "ransomware" or attack and consequent extortion is vigilance, particularly in training employees to prevent phishing and other breaches that allow hackers in.