The Dark Overlord, a dangerous group of cyber criminals, have made a name for themselves over the past several years. We’ve covered some of their illegal activities in the past targeting healthcare and financial institutions, and unfortunately, they’ve continued to make news.

Their latest attacks open a new front into cybersecurity, signaling a shift all organizations should have on their radar. Here’s what you need to know.

Real-Life Ransom

As you likely know, when it comes to ransomware and cyberattacks, everyone from the FBI to security professionals like us advise that you never pay the demanded ransom. This only emboldens cyber criminals and there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually receive your stolen data.

Instead, the best protection is to have a comprehensive IT security plan and system in place that protects your data and, if necessary, restores your information from backup if you are breached and locked out.

Before now, following this advice has been sufficient. But as it always goes, cyber criminals are extremely adaptable, and The Dark Overlord’s newest tactic was developed in an effort to try and force organization’s into paying ransoms.

Recently, the group has taken to harassing U.S. school districts. This included hacking into school systems, stealing the information of students and sending threatening text messages to parents. Naturally, these threats were not taken lightly. As CBS News reported in September, 30 public and private schools canceled classes in northwestern Montana due to these threatening messages.

While being an obviously terrible thing to do, outside of the scope of human morality, this attack raises an important question: why do this? School districts are a weaker target than cyber-secure financial institutions, government bureaus or building development firms, but they also lack the funds a hacker would normally demand via ransom.

As it turns out, the goal was never to harm the schools. Instead, it was to put pressure on the organizations The Dark Overlord is really targeting, forcing them to pay their ransom to not only stop the attacks on their organization, but also on members of their community.

In an anonymous chat conducted by Jeremy Kirk from Bank Info Security, a member of The Dark Overlord explained, writing “Children are a closely held care in the hearts and minds of parents and law enforcement. We’re sending a message to law enforcement that if they continue to persuade our clients away from complying with us that we’re going to continue to escalate and what better escalation is there than innocent children?”

This is clearly reprehensible. IT forecasting does, however, point to a future where cyber attackers are bolder; more willing to go to extraordinary methods to get what they want. How should organizations respond and prepare themselves for this new future?

Increased Literacy and Greater Protections

There’s no one simple answer here. Fundamentally, you can’t stop these attackers from targeting organizations you care about or other vulnerable entities. You can do everything in your power, however, to ensure your own organization is protected and has a first-rate IT security infrastructure in place.

The only way things are going to get better is if cybersecurity literacy increases. Society as a whole, regardless of industry, needs to become more familiar with these attack methods and have IT security in place that greatly reduces the odds of falling victim to them. This requires everyone working together by sharing attack information with others in your field and spreading news like this to people you know who may be working in other vulnerable industries.

Cybersecurity and the threat of hackers tends to lack that feeling of an immediate threat. Someone breaking into your computer system and stealing valuable data isn’t quite as unnerving as someone breaking into your home. Just because these threats occur behind computer screens doesn’t make them any less threatening though, and with the FBI reporting an average of 4,000 ransomware attacks a day in 2016 (numbers which are only expected to increase), everyone needs to be on the lookout.

In a way, this next step that The Dark Overlord is taking is kind of a wakeup call. They’ve crossed one of the most sensitive lines — stealing the data of children, harassing parents and terrorizing whole communities. Cybercrime now has a face — a true threat that makes it a necessity for everyone to take security seriously. You’re not just protecting your own interests anymore.

Wondering what else you can do protect your organization? Click here to learn more about BAI Security’s Red Team Assessment and see how we can help you uncover your security weaknesses before the bad guys do.