WannaCry makes corporations, system administrators wanna cry

By Danial Asyraaf Idris, Al Jazeera English

Global cyber attack affects thousands

It’s the biggest cyberattack of its kind in history. A computer virus called WannaCry has infected an estimated 75,000 computers in 99 countries. By exploiting a bug in the Windows operating system, the ransomware locks computer files and demands money to restore access. It has affected major organisations, such as the National Health Service in the UK, car maker Renault, international shipper FedEx, telecoms company Telefonica, as well as several of Russia’s ministries. The ability to spread rapidly to computers within one network means that large corporations are acutely vulnerable to the attack.

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A popup on the screen of a computer subjected to WannaCry

The spread of WannaCry has caused many businesses to temporarily stop operations as they attempt to resolve the issue. The National Health Service has faced several problems, such as the encryption of key patient data and cancelling of non-urgent appointments due to their inability to access medical records on hospital computers. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in a statement, said, “The National Cybersecurity Center has been working closely with NHS Digital to ensure that they support the organisations concerned and protect patients data.”

The value of the hacking is not merely in the $300 worth of Bitcoin these hackers demand in ransom for the data they hold, but in the millions of dollars they can potentially earn by selling users’ information on the Dark Web. This hacking tool was leaked by a group called ShadowBrokers, which has dumped hacking tools stolen from the US’ National Security Agency online in the last few months. Although patches and fixes have been developed, a number of organisations, including a few UK hospitals, have not yet updated their systems.

Ransomware can also affect consumers as much as it does corporations. They can target any PC users, including home computers. Ransomware can prevent you from accessing your operating system, encrypt files to restrict access to them, stop certain applications like the web browser from running as well as steal your information (such as credit card and banking information as well as passwords) to sell on the Dark Web to other cyber criminals.

The best way to protect your computers from ransomware attacks is by keeping your computers up-to-date with the latest software. As a responsible user online, you should be wary of what you open and download on your computer. Cyber criminals are actively trying to overcome safeguards like spam email filters. Thus, being a discerning and smart user of the Internet is a good way to ensure that you don’t introduce ransomware into your computer.

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