Virus attack is a wake-up call for business

In a post today, UK-based security researcher MalwareTech described how he checked a cyber threat sharing platform after returning home from lunch to discover that National Health Service systems across Britain were being hit by a cyberattack. Most similar viruses rely on humans to spread by tricking them into clicking on an attachment harbouring the attack code. Even if North Korea isn't responsible, it's a wake-up call.

Microsoft should know that there are people, small businesses, schools and hospitals that still use older version of Windows, such as XP (which came out in 2001).

Although the cyber-attack has been keeping experts busy tracking the whereabouts and the loss that individuals and businesses are facing, some have opined that the massive effect could have been avoided through some simple measures. Security experts around the world are still wary about it; they are nearly certain that either new variants of the malware that ignore the kill switch will appear or that similar malwares by copy-cat authors will. Luckily, it is not fully functional, but it's surely just a matter of time before a worse version of WannaCrypt emerges. While technicians around the world struggled to secure their networks, the finger pointing had already begun.

The attack, which targets vulnerabilities in Microsoft Corp MSFT.O systems, did indeed use a tool built by the NSA which leaked online in April, according to Microsoft.

High-profiles attacks like WannaCry "drive the market", Ilex International president Laurent Gautier told AFP.

Critics of the NSA do have a point, however. "In short, it has a lot of computers and at least some of them weren't able to withstand an attack like this".

"Whether or not you think the US government should be spending a fortune developing such cyber-weapons, surely it is obvious that the weapons they develop should be properly secured", said Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist for New Jersey-based cybersecurity firm Comodo, in an emailed statement.

One way to protect yourself is to have the latest version of the operating system and make sure you have auto-update turned on so that you'll get all security updates automatically. The virus has also impacted computers running Windows Vista and Windows 7 whose owners had blocked the security updates.

Its initial goal by the NSA was to gain access to computers used by terrorists and enemy states, but unfortunately, the hackers behind the cyber attack saw this as an opportunity for misuse.

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If you had any version of Windows since Vista running the default Windows Update, you would have had the critical Microsoft Security Bulletin known as "MS17-010" pushed down to your PC and automatically installed.

But then, the patches won't do any good for machines that have already been hit.

The stolen exploits were reported earlier this year, and although Microsoft created a patch to address the vulnerability, many computers were not patched, leading to them being susceptible to the hack. These are valid explanations for using obsolete software, but they are not excuses.

Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based blogger who runs BleepingComputer.com, says many organizations don't install security upgrades because they're anxious about triggering bugs, or they can't afford the downtime.

It's important to realize that the attackers behind WannaCry - whomever they are - have made headlines. Usually used by cyber criminals, ransomware is a popular means of making illicit money from victims who have to pay the criminals in order to have their data decrypted.

Whatever the NHS does, it's clearly becoming a bigger and bigger risk to remain on Windows XP, and some action needs to be taken - this is about protecting vital patient data, after all.

Around the world users were locked out of their computers as they fell prey to ransomware demanding they pay up or lose their data - 200 000 were hit on Friday 12 May 2017 alone.

Note: This article has been corrected to clarify that the amount of the ransom price set by the WannaCry cyber malware is different than the value of one bitcoin.


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