PHILIPSBURG:— The cyber-attack that affected over 150 countries since last week should be a “wake-up” call for governments. Microsoft blamed governments for storing data on software with known vulnerabilities which could then be accessed by hackers. The latest virus exploits a flaw in Microsoft Windows identified by and stolen from, US intelligence.
While there is a fear that more ransomware attacks may take place this week, few have been reported. Hackers are calling on the countries and businesses affected to pay a ransom before their files can be restored. Governments and companies in the 150 countries that have been affected have IT experts working overtime to contain and prevent more attacks.
Basic information shows that over 200,000 computers have been affected. Reports showed that many firms and governments have responded by paying over $38,000.00 to the hackers. It is predicted that the cost will double within the coming days.
SMN News webmaster and IT professional Ramzan Juman was asked to break down the ransomware cyber attack and how St. Maarten and other Caribbean nations can protect themselves.
When asked what is ransomware and whether or not it is common in the IT community, the IT specialist said that ransomware is a form of malware that blocks access to the user’s computer system/data usually through encryption until the user pays a sum of money for a key to decrypt the data and regain access to the computer/data. It is a well-known threat in the IT industry. As a matter of fact, a few years ago the CryptoLocker virus was prevalent and questions about it were common during job interviews.
When asked about the recent attack that affected several countries and if this could have been prevented. Juman said that the recent widespread attack was caused by a collection of spy tools allegedly used by the National Security Agency (NSA) that were stolen or leaked online. In particular, ransomware known as WannaCry infected tens of thousands of computers in more than 100 countries. WannaCry takes advantage of a Windows vulnerability that was patched about a month ago by Microsoft. WannaCry can be prevented by ensuring your computer has the latest Windows updates installed.
The young IT professional who hails from Saint Martin and is continuing his studies abroad was asked if it’s fair to blame governments and businesses for the lack of sufficient protections against this attack. Juman said when it comes to cyber security there is always room for improvement. A business or government’s security posture has to be continuously assessed, improved and reviewed for new threats in a growing technological world. IT Departments need to remain vigilant by paying attention to new vulnerabilities and trends in the industry. One of the most common ways to identify whether or not there is an issue is to establish a baseline (what normal network activity looks like) so that when there are anomalies you can refer to the baseline as a reference before you start investigating the cause.
When asked if he believes that all of the attacks were based on carelessness on the part of the countries affected over the weekend, or whether Microsoft is to blame. Juman said based on his experience, governments/companies are always skeptical when installing patches, sometimes delaying for months. Patches are usually installed at the discretion of the IT Department. The main reason for this is that Windows patches sometimes interfere with legacy software used by governments/companies. However, this practice trades off security which is probably why hackers were able to take advantage of this vulnerability.
When asked if Microsoft is in anyway responsible for the calamity facing those affected Juman was clear by stating that Microsoft patched this issue about a month ago. However, more could have been done to spread awareness and highlight the urgency of installing the updates. His advice to governments and computer users are they should always install the latest patches/updates for their operating system (Windows/macOS). Install antivirus software and periodically check to ensure it is active and up to date. There are many good free antivirus software available such as Avira, Bitdefender, AVG and Avast. Don’t click suspicious links or attachments in emails, mouse over the link and see where it goes, if you don’t know the sender don’t open the attachment. Don’t conduct business on public Wi-Fi without a secure VPN connection.
It should be noted that the government of St. Maarten suffered attacks in recent months and up to now, the issue cannot be properly resolved. Due to the lack of proper internet access by government departments, it has placed a huge setback on the civil servants that have to properly advise government and the community at large.
Source: St. Martin News Network
A wake up call for governments around the world with Ransomware Cyberattack — Microsoft says.