Beware, WannaCry cyber attack may just be the beginning

Pauline Gross
May 20, 2017

In its postmortem of last Friday's wide-ranging ransomware attack that targeted Windows systems, Microsoft put part of the blame on the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Last week, tens of thousands of computers worldwide were infected by a software virus called WannaCrypt, a form of "ransomware" that encrypts important user files and effectively holds them hostage unless a payment is made to the program's anonymous creator.

The attack was a remarkable global event.

The vulnerability in Windows was first found by National Security Agency (NSA) of US and the agency has faced much criticism for dumping information related to the vulnerability online.

The WannaCry ransomware targets older versions of Microsoft software, like Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 8, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, that are no longer supported by Microsoft.

Thus far, there has been little evaluation of why China has been one of the most vulnerable countries in this ransomware attack.

Microsoft pointed that, "The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call". "We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits", he said. "Unfortunately, most people don't have them", Abrams says. The company quickly released a patch that would have protected computers from the ransomware.

You should make multiple backups - to cloud services and using physical disk drives, at regular and frequent intervals.

The idea behind the policy is that while security exploits can be used by American agencies for intelligence gathering, there is no reason that other actors - including foreign governments, terrorist organizations or criminal enterprises - couldn't devise similar tools to steal information for their own purposes.

The ransomware incident, which affected more than 200,000 computer systems in 150 countries, disrupted services at 61 NHS organisations, with some still struggling to restore operations.

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But this still shouldn't make smartphone users be as concerned as even the attackers are looking at easier options who are more likely to pay-up. While all this sounds terrifying, Tarah Wheeler, security researcher and author of Women in Tech, said ransomware is in some ways one of the "most benign" types of malware - unless you run critical infrastructure like hospitals, of course.

To address this, Google is drawing a line between the Android OS layers and the vendor layer, calling it "Treble".

This attack, however, is an indication that as technology gets more enabling and efficient, it'll also need higher security standards in order to battle the sophisticated attacks.

Not only is security the responsibility of the manufacturer, but also of the consumer as the latter is responsible for updating their devices to the latest software provided to protect against such attacks. When the company upgrades its software and no longer supports the version you are using, you have a problem. That's a lot of smart in a single sentence.

The world got a taste over the weekend (13-14 May 2017) of a potential "cyber Pearl Harbour"-the kind of attack that the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had warned about in 2012".

If you find his story inspirational and want to get into security, Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, requests you do it on the right team.

Smart Homes devices are slowly and steadily finding their place in our homes and arguably add convenience to our lives. The malicious e-mail may come from them.

So if an employee accidentally infects one computer with something like WannaCry, it could take down an entire firm's infrastructure. It started spreading early in the morning on Friday, and within hours had knocked out entire hospitals in the United Kingdom, as well as companies such as Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and automakers Renault and Nissan, among many others.

The attack could cost the government and corporate organisations north of $4billion in bitcoin as there is still no certainty as to whether the attacks have been completely mitigated or a second wave might send some more shocks. The best course of action is to contact an IT or Cyber Security professional to assist you in analyzing and minimizing the attack.

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