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MonsterCloud helps solve an issue that can bring a company to its knees

By Arnie Rosenberg

Zohar Pinhasi has no doubt that hackers—whoever they are—dictated the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. They’re that good.

But, he’s quick to add, so is he.

“If it’s a computer, you can manipulate it,” says Pinhasi, CEO and founder of Miami-based MonsterCloud. “We bought a voting machine online, just to understand how the device works, and we hacked it in five minutes. I even hacked a computer that was 100 percent unplugged from the internet. The thought that any computer cannot be manipulated is absolutely outrageous.”

It might sound like bragging, but Pinhasi, 40, has the goods to back up the big talk.

Born and education in Israel, he sharpened his skills in the Israeli military, focusing on security intelligence. Discharged at age 22, he started a business to help communications companies fight telecom fraud—hackers squeezing extra minutes out of SIM cards. At the time, it was a serious problem, costing the industry millions of dollars.

Yet what Pinhasi discovered after moving to Miami in 2002 and starting another company, PC USA, that provided information technology services to small businesses, dwarfed any scam he’d seen the internet bad guys running before.

It was ransomware—online fraud taken to a new level.

He calls it today’s No. 1 threat facing large and small companies alike, governments and even individuals. Years earlier, Pinhasi had battled a problem costing companies millions. Ransomware, he says, today is a billion-dollar specter hanging over the heads of all computer users, and the problem is destined to get worse.

With a single click on a malicious email, Pinhasi explains, a sophisticated ransomware program can infect a single PC or a large company running thousands of computers and hundreds of servers. In the blink of an eye, it encrypts every file. Perpetrators demand ransom for the key to unlock the system.

“Ransomware today is a global problem that affects every person on planet Earth,” Pinhasi says. “No matter who you are, no matter what kind of business or government you are, you can be affected. It’s beyond insane.”

Pleas for help have come from one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical companies, an Indiana police department and computer users everywhere between. Often, it’s an organization’s own IT specialist calling, frantically seeking a way to deal with an attack he or she never has seen before.

“When they call us, they’re having a panic attack,” he says.

That’s where MonsterCloud’s 70 employees are helping 7,000 customers around the world. It’s taken up to four days to get some big companies up and running again, drawing on its own cybersecurity unit and its database of cyber threats, built from monitoring ransomware activity around the world.

“This problem went from computers to servers to smartphones to TVs, then to smart thermostats, and now criminals are locking databases,” Pinhasi says. “Sometimes we get hundreds of calls a day.”

And while MonsterCloud’s calls have seen an uptick once “Russian hacking” became ubiquitous water-cooler chatter, the inquiries that begin with “How can I protect myself or my business” end up with an education.

“If you get hit, we have a lot of knowledge you cannot find online,” Pinhasi says. “What do you do? How do you recover your files? How did they get in? It’s part of the process of recovering, and just as important: We want to ensure you will never be in that position again.”

Still, Pinhasi points out, dealing large-scale with ransomware remains a challenge because no one really knows its scope. According to the FBI, it’s less than a $1 billion annual scam, but Pinhasi says only about 20 percent of victims report their attacks.

By the end of this year, he predicts, ransomware could cost computer users more than $10 billion.

“I won’t be surprised if losses from ransomware increase five to 10 times before the end of 2017,” he says. “We’re all more vulnerable as the bad actors get better.”

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.