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Parsing the tech and national security concerns behind the WannaCry ransomware attacks

20 Mai 2017

As the massive ransomware attack spread like wildfire across hundreds of countries over the weekend, experts estimated that the ransomware, dubbed WannaCrypt or WannaCry, infected over 100,000 computers in almost 150 countries.

Meanwhile, new versions of the ransomware have reportedly surfaced, including one without the kill switch exploited by a 22-year-old computer security researcher to shut the attack down.

As a loose global network of cybersecurity experts fought the ransomware, the attack was disrupting computers that run factories, banks, government agencies and transport systems in scores of countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Spain, India and Japan, among others.

If you see the above screen, you are a victim of WannaCry. A ransomware attack will be little more than an inconvenience.

A hacking group called Shadow Brokers released the malware in April claiming to have discovered the flaw from the NSA, according to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity provider.

"The operating systems on our computers and software downloads are managed centrally so that regular users can not download executable files from the internet without administrative rights", he said in an email.

These ranks work with law enforcement agencies and governments around the globe through Microsoft's Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit. This also reflects the complicated set of factors underlying WannaCry's effectiveness.

Following the alert, the Gujarat government began equipping its state computer systems with anti-virus software and upgrading its Microsoft operating systems.

Organizations and networks worldwide have since Friday been dealing with the fallout of massive ransomware attack that exploited a hole in PCs running Microsoft Windows that haven't been updated. However, the latter version is non-functional and seems to have been a test by someone who manually patched the binary to remove the kill switch, rather than recompiling it from its original source code. This included the release of the patch in March and an update on Friday to Windows Defender to detect the WannaCrypt attack.

Microsoft did not confirm to AFP when it made the patch free.

To make things worse, Microsoft, which used to provide custom security software support to its clients for $200 for each system in 2014, doubled the cost to $400 in 2015, thereby discouraging the companies from upgrading their systems. "It only guarantees that the malicious actors receive the victim's money, and in some cases, their banking information". Once the PC is infected, the machine will attempt to infect other machines over the local network as well as over the internet. If you have a backup, there's no need to pay ransom for your data.

Cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Box offer large amount of storage space for a monthly or yearly subscription fee. "To protect your computer from such malicious malwares, one should be aware of the security measures and install all necessary updates", Dinesh Yadav, superintendent of police (city), said in a press note.

Make sure you have antivirus software from a reputable vendor installed on your machine. In 2000, a Filipino computer graduate unleashed the "Love Bug" virus that wreaked havoc in at least 20 countries and caused losses estimated at up to $10 billion.

The cyber security expert draws parallels with the data security breaches last September and October, where a malware attack forced Indian banks to replace or request users to change the security codes of 3.2 million debit cards. In addition to keeping your software up-to-date, avoiding phishing attacks and more, Lock Down your Login also suggests using unique passwords and stronger authentication.

Parsing the tech and national security concerns behind the WannaCry ransomware attacks