On 12 May 2017, the world woke up to a blank computer screen with a message confirming access to their computer files had been locked and that a $300 ransom payment, made in the form of the cryptocurrency – bitcoin, could get them to receive a patch that would unlock the files. If you didn’t pay, the data would be lost forever.
The ransomware was “WannaCry” and it did make people want to cry, especially those who had their critical information stored on the computer.
That’s was a nightmare come true for thousands of commercial organisations, academic institutions, hospital chains, service providers, etc, across the world. The ransomware attack was launched on Friday and by the time users in the Far East, Asia and Europe opened their computers on Monday morning, the infection had already hit.
Institutions that were affected included the British NHS – the public health service provider in Britain, Hitachi, Renault and hundreds of other companies in Japan, South Korea, China, UK and even India, though on a smaller scale.
So what is a ransomware?
As the name suggests, it’s a piece of software code designed to infect your computer files and then deny you access at a pre-determined time. Furthermore, it looks at vulnerabilities in the infected computer system to identify file-sharing paths. Through these, it can then spread to other computers that connect to it, either through direct cable connection or via the internet, where it once again repeats the process in the targeted computer or device.
Such code written with a malicious intent to extract payment from the victim, in return for a rescue patch, is called ransomware.
How to protect yourself from a global ransomware attack?
It must be understood that ransomware like WannaCry is only one type of malicious attack. A computer or any other mobile device could be vulnerable to virus, Trojans, phishing or a Denial of Service (DOS) attack, wherein your data will be compromised or the system will simply shut down.
Steps to remain protected from similar attacks
Install an active Anti-Virus software
The answer to this is to have an active anti-virus software loaded on your system with automatic security patch download turned on. If anti-virus installed in your system is on a manual update mode, then in case of an attack, the next time you switch on your system the malicious software would already be sitting in your system.
The time between a malicious attack and it going viral across the globe is a matter of seconds and unless detected early and security patch received in real time, it will infect your system.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that your anti-virus always remains on automatic update mode, so it can automatically download security patches the moment you log on to the internet.
Remember, anti-virus softwares can only protect your system up to a point. Most viruses and malicious softwares enter the system through pen drives and emails.
Upgrade to latest OS
It has been observed that the present “WannaCry” attack targeted only Windows-based systems that were still running on XP. This is an OS from Microsoft that it stopped supporting from 2014 onwards.
Mac OS and Android users were spared in this attack but there is no guarantee that next time they will remain safe. With technology, one can never be 100% protected but one can take measures to be close to that.
In the current global attack, the mistake by users was to continue running the computer system on Windows XP. The transition to the current Windows 10 OS would have saved the system.
A virus, ransomware, Trojan or phishing code, can infect your system through a pen drive or when connected by cable to another system or simply through the internet, where it could arrive in the form of an attachment.
Merely clicking on this can compromise your critical information like banking user names, passwords etc, or simply deny access to your system, as in the case of WannaCry.
Watch out for suspicious email with attachments
Most common attacks over the internet are launched through email. The best way to protect yourself is to closely watch every mail in your Inbox or Junk mail BEFORE opening it. Please look at the sender’s URL carefully.
It may appear to come from a credible source like your bank, computer supplier or OS supplier but a closer look will reveal a flaw or incorrect URL. Delete the message immediately. DO NOT OPEN any attachments that come with the mail.
Scan your system and take external back-up regularly
All Windows, Mac and Android systems come with in-built system scanning tools. Use these frequently to look for vulnerabilities and updates.
Keep taking regular ‘back-up’ of all your critical files on an external device or cloud. This way, you will only lose the data that was collected post your last back up. Taking back-up at the end of each day is recommended. For businesses, hourly back-ups are recommended. The most preferred would be real-time back-ups that automatically keep backing up your data in real time on an external device or cloud.
Follow the above recommendations and there is a better chance of you sleeping peacefully every night.