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Edgbaston record company boss Jim Simpson ‘held hostage’ by computer virus attack

August 30th, 2016 by Mark Daly in Industry News No Comments »
Edgbaston record company boss Jim Simpson 'held hostage' by computer virus attack ilicomm Technology Solutions

Record company boss Jim Simpson has issued a stark warning to all small companies – after a work experience student he’d taken on accidentally opened an email which then held his business to ransom.

When Jim Simpson first put Ozzy Osbourne on a stage with Black Sabbath and then launched his own label Big Bear Records, the only viruses he had to worry about in those heady months of 1968 were of the influenza variety.

Record company boss Jim Simpson has issued a stark warning to all small companies – after a work experience student he’d taken on accidentally opened an email which then held his business to ransom.

When Jim Simpson first put Ozzy Osbourne on a stage with Black Sabbath and then launched his own label Big Bear Records, the only viruses he had to worry about in those heady months of 1968 were of the influenza variety.

Now, 46 years after taking Black Sabbath to No 1 with their second album Paranoid – and 32 years after he founded the Birmingham and Solihull Jazz & Blues Festival – many of Big Bear Records’ files been crippled by a virus.

Yet despite having taken company-wide online precautions, the key reason for the breakdown in security is so simple that Jim is now offering his story as a cautionary tale to help others.

“It’s like you are being held to ransom in your own office,” says Jim inside the Edgbaston base of what he believes is the UK’s longest established independent record company.

“Our in-house server was happily running about ten computers on Windows until we were hit by the Zepto encryption virus last Tuesday and Wednesday.

“This basically takes over your entire system, and then it tells you that you can only get everything back by paying a ransom.

“It is demanding we pay 2.5 Bitcoins – whatever they are – which is apparently equivalent to £1,126.

“After all of the budget cuts at the Jazz Festival, we can ill-afford that.

“But police advice is not to pay it anyway as there is no guarantee of success.

“It feels like our home has been broken into and that we’ve had a big item like the TV stolen.

“But until you go looking, you don’t know what else has been taken.

“I keep opening files to discover there is nothing there, but I don’t want to trash them in case we can somehow retrieve the information.

“Luckily, the virus hasn’t affected our emails, so we can always retrieve our attachments.

And the computers are working as such, even if most files appear to be empty.

“The other good news is that although we lost all of the 400 photographs we had from this year’s Jazz Festival, our official photographer Merlin Daleman has been able to resend them from Holland.”

Jim, who sits at a window desk beneath shelves of files from “the old days”, said it could take weeks to try to figure out what has been lost.

“Luckily, we’ve always done a lot of things on paper,” says Jim, who also published Brum Beat magazine.

“But this Zepto virus has affected everything we’ve ever had on computer since we first began using them.

“I thought our IT company had backed everything up, but everything was kept here.

“I am now being told we need to keep things up in the cloud… whatever that is!”

Jim’s story of woe is a distress flare for all modern businesses – thanks to the way the Zepto virus was able to attack the weakest, human link of his system.

For ten days last month, Jim had been the toast of Birmingham as he flitted across many of the mostly free 200 events he’d organised for the Jazz Festival.

Though Jim has been battling on with an ever-decreasing amount of civic funding – and with one eye already wondering about the currency implications of Brexit next year – dignitaries including Lord Mayor Coun Carl Rice still hold him in great respect.

During a launch event in the Sky Bar of the Regis Hotel, a string of top council officials plus jazz fan / sports presenter Gary Newbon all paid tribute to his organisational skills.

With typical bonhomie, Jim generously welcomed musicians and jazz fans from all over the world as the annual event was blessed with some more great weather.

Offering work experience placements proved to be his undoing – because that is how the Zepto virus exploited Big Bear’s weakest link.

“We’d taken on a young office intern who opened the email with the virus in it,” says Jim.

“We would know not to touch it, but a work experience lad opened this particular one.

“I don’t know why he opened it because it wasn’t even addressed to him.

“But he did and here we are.

“It’s a lesson for all small companies to be aware of.”

What happens next?

Jazz Festival board member and tech consultant Rob Sealey warned Jim the problem would not be an easy fix.

Rob, who does not maintain Big Bear’s system, said in an email: “(Recovery) is not a quick process and there is no guarantee of success but we have had success in recovering information encrypted by one of the attacks.

“The police are right in their advice against paying the ransom, as once the attacker has your money, they have no ‘reason’ to provide you with any decryption key, and I have heard reports of a number of companies who have paid and still been no better off.”

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, the National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, wrote to Jim to say: “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been a victim of crime.”

She added: “Reports received are sent to our National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB)… (who will) review the information you have given us and assess whether there is enough evidence for the police or appropriate law enforcement organisation, such as Trading Standards to investigate your fraud.

“The NFIB aims to send you an update in writing around 28 working days after you have made your fraud report.

“The information you provided can be matched against the many thousands of fraud reports each month and can be used to disrupt criminal activity as well as used for prevention advice and campaigns.”

Copyright: Birminghammail.co.uk

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