nsucurrent.com April 25, 2018

Running Windows? How to protect against the big ransomware attack

18 May 2017, 12:23 | Ricardo Garza

Speaking to Britian's ITV, Europol director Rob Wainwright said the healthcare sector in many countries is particularly vulnerable.

The attack held hospitals and other entities hostage by freezing computers, encrypting their data and demanding money through online bitcoin payment - $300 at first, rising to $600 before it destroys files hours later.

The initial wave of infections affects organizations including FedEx, Russia's Interior Ministry, Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica, and the U.K.'s National Health Service.

On Sunday, Chinese media reported that students at several universities were hit by the virus, which blocked access to their thesis papers and their dissertation presentations.

The malicious software, known as ransomware, is spread by people clicking on links in emails.

"It was early morning Saturday for us, and that meant the bulk of us weren't at our keyboards", the prime minister's cyber security adviser Alastair MacGibbon said. It combined a known and highly unsafe security hole in Microsoft Windows, tardy users who didn't apply Microsoft's March software fix, and a software design that allowed the malware to spread quickly once inside university, business and government networks.

Other malware attacks do impact Apple computers while phones are "becoming more susceptible", he said. The WannaCry malware is shaping up to be one of the largest of its kind, infecting almost a quarter-million computers in 150 nations since it was launched on Friday.

The security firm Kaspersky Lab, based in Russian Federation, noted that Microsoft had repaired the software problem that allows backdoor entry into its operating systems weeks before hackers published the exploit linked to the NSA, but also said: "Unfortunately it appears that many users have not yet installed the patch".

The attacks exploited the computers because they were running outdated versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system.

You can protect yourself by installing updates, running anti-virus software and using firewalls. It's crucial that customers allow their computers to automatically patch themselves when patches are issued. It's likely that things will get worse before they get better.

"This makes them the ideal target for an easier score", US-based cyber security company FireEye has said. That low-cost move redirected the attacks to MalwareTech's server, which operates as a "sinkhole" to keep malware from escaping. Capitalizing on spying tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, hackers staged a cyberassault with a self-spreading malware that has infected tens of thousands of computers in dozens of countries.

He says if a new variant without a so-called kill switch pops up, then organizations will be on their own to prevent it from taking over their computers.

Microsoft cautioned that, however, there is no guarantee that paying the fine or doing what the ransomware tells you will give access to your PC or files again.

The ransomware apparently uses zero day exploits hoarded by the National Security Agency (NSA), that a hacker collective known as the Shadow Brokers claim they obtained from a secret NSA server. But some experts have argued this attack could have been vastly mitigated if the NSA told Microsoft sooner.

He added that the agency is still analyzing the virus and has yet to identify who is responsible for the attack. Some cybersecurity experts are wondering if the vulnerability exposed with the leaked US government documents could be part of the attraction. If they don't get updates quickly, Smith contends, they're "fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past".

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