If you've seen the USA Network TV show "Mr. Robot," you know it's about a cybersecurity engineer who, by night, hacks the bad guys' computer systems. He's a genius who's recruited by a mysterious man to hack the company where he works.
Real life and that show have come together in a ransomware attack that seems to be the work of a state-sponsored hacker group. Its victim is an email system that uses encryption to keep hackers out.
ProtonMail, which is featured in "Mr. Robot," was originally created as a secure site for whistleblowers and journalists. It uses encryption, which is a sophisticated system to disguise logins, passwords and similar safety features to look like something else.
ProtonMail has been under attack by two hacking teams that disabled the service. It's a sophisticated ransomware attack that ProtonMail suspects is state sponsored, meaning a country like China or Russia that has the know-how and finances to undertake a sophisticated attack.
"[T]he attacks began to take on an unprecedented level of sophistication," according to the ProtonMail blog. ProtonMail paid the ransom, which amounted to a not-significant $6,066, in bitcoins. However, the attacks continued.
ProtonMail was initially threatened by these hackers. That was followed by a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack. Its system was shut down for 15 minutes, but came back on to a limited degree.
ProtonMail says the attacks then got worse, affecting its "upstream providers," datacenter and routers in European cities. The attacks occurred in two stages, the first against its IP addresses. The second targeted "weak points in the infrastructure of our ISPs."
There is some good news to report, although it's muted. "At the current moment, we are not under attack and have been able to restore services, but we may come under attack again."
Note: Encryption is a sophisticated way to protect computer systems. As ProtonMail proves, no computer system is completely secure.