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Cyber security expert says Horry school district needs up-to-date virus protection

WPDE file image/A former Conway police officer who now heads a cyber security firm says ransomware is now the world's number one cyber threat.

A computer security expert says it's important for Horry County Schools to take steps now to prevent another ransomware attack.

Ransomware is a type of cyber virus that locks up a computer and then requires the victim to pay a ransom to get it unlocked.

The school district has authorized a payment of up to $8,500 to solve its recent ransomware attack.

Troy Wilkinson is a former Conway police officer who now heads his own cyber security firm. He said ransomware is a nationwide problem that has infected many agencies and companies, including J.P. Morgan Chase and MGM Resorts.

"I don't think Horry County Schools is any different from the millions of other enterprises and government organizations and businesses that have been affected," said Wilkinson, CEO of Axiom Cyber Solutions based in Las Vegas.

Wilkinson said the district did the right thing in this case, because ransomware encryption is so tough to crack it's cheaper to just pay up.

But he adds now the district - and all computer users - should take proper steps to prevent more attacks.

"They consist of keeping your anti-virus up to date, having hardware like firewalls that prevent intrusions and malicious software from infecting computers," said Wilkinson.

School officials have said the district is looking to add additional layers of security.

The school district plans to pay its ransom in Bitcoin, the unregulated digital currency that's popular with criminals.

Wilkinson said 99 percent of ransomware payments are made in Bitcoin.

"If you pay somebody in Bitcoin, that money becomes instantly untraceable and they can use it anywhere around the world, without any identity of who that bad guy is."

Wilkinson said criminals will stop ransomware attacks when it's no longer viable to make money, but that won't be soon.

"They're making millions of dollars very easily with this digital currency, so i don't see a decrease in the near future," he said.

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