A global ransomware attack infected hundreds of thousands of computers across 150 countries – so how can you possibly protect yourself?
Ransomware refers to a malicious software that encrypts a users’ computer, locking it down so you cannot access it, and then demanding a ransom to release your computer.
Wanna Cry – what happened?
The latest variant, called WannaCry, WannaCrypt or WannaDecrypt0r, spread through networked machines, causing the meltdown of IT systems in 16 NHS hospitals in the UK, as well as hitting the Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and bank Santander, along with public institutions in the Phillipines, US, Australia and India.
Cybercriminal based the ransomware worm on leaked NSA software called EternalBlue, including code that took advantage of a flaw in Windows XP.
While the outdated operating system only runs on less than 10 per cent of the world’s computers, the numbers still run into the hundreds of millions.
Security experts at cybersecurity firm Kapersky Labs note how widespread worldwide the attacks have been.
Ransomware is now rightly considered the greatest cyber threat in today’s murky world of cyberattacks.
Most Brits would pay £400 ransom
Alex Gostev from Kaspersky Labs recently said: “One of the reasons why ransomware has become so popular lies in the simplicity of the business model used by cybercriminals.
“Once the ransomware gets into a users’ system, there is almost no chance of getting rid of it without losing personal data. The demand to pay the ransom in Bitcoin makes the payment process anonymous and almost untraceable, which is very attractive to fraudsters.”
Depressingly, a recent poll of British victims of ransomware found almost half paid to regain their information and a third said they would pay up to £400 to do so.
Ransomware can be not only extremely damaging for your computer but very expensive to fix.
It is a sad fact that no protection is absolute but a combination of personal vigilance and well-designed protective tools will go a long way to preventing you becoming a ransomware victim.
While tempting, all experts warn not to pay a ransom. It is never a guarantee the criminals will leave you alone and it only encourages others to see you as a cash cow.
Patch, patch and patch again
The ransomware that is currently running riot across the NHS relied on a known vulnerability. It is vital to allow your PC or laptop to update patches when they are issued.
And if you own a Mac you can’t afford to be smug. You too should consistently update and patch your systems. You are just as vulnerable.
Back-up, back-up, a little further
A key method of prevention is to back-up your files and photos on an external device such as an external hard drive or a USB stick. And make sure you disconnect it from your machine when not needed.
In fact, it is often the only way to recover your precious snaps if you are unwilling to pay the extortionists.
Security is the first line of defence
Even individual users should consider installing some form of security programs on your computer.
There are many available and all will provide some protection, even if it’s only a reminder to be careful when downloading potentially infected files.
There is plenty of excellent antivirus software that can be installed on your PC or laptop. Well-designed protection can check any newly downloaded program to ensure it is malware free. It scans your computer to detect and defeat malware and it is regularly updated to keep ahead of new threats.
Close down ports
This applies when you use public WiFi networks. Make sure you tell your system that you’re on a public network. That tells your operating system that it’s working in a potentially threat-filled environment and it will close off some of the more vulnerable software ports.
Keep an eye on that inbox
The sad fact is that we are the weakest point of any cybersecurity and email is the favoured method of infecting a computer with ransomware. Personal vigilance is the first layer of protection from attack.
This is especially true at your workplace. Attacks against businesses almost always begins with an employee opening infected emails. All companies should have a robust cybersecurity awareness training available.
The number one rule is never open attachments unless you are absolutely sure who the sender is. Likewise, with links to websites. If necessary try to contact the sender by other means to check they are authentic.
Be wary of emails that ask you to provide passwords. or emails, supposedly from a friend, but only have a message such as ‘check out this cool website’. Be vigilant.