Giant Ransomware Attack Again Highlights Widespread Privacy Risks

By now, you’ve probably heard about the massive WannaCry ransomware attack that plagued the Internet recently, drawing unprecedented attention to cybersecurity and widespread vulnerability to attacks. In the wake of this news, we wanted to not only look at what happened, but also spend a bit of time talking about what ransomware is, if you’re at risk, and what you can do to protect yourself from this and other serious risks online.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects your computer and locks it, which prevents you from accessing your data or files. Access is blocked until you pay a ransom, often demanded in bitcoin. A ransomeware attack is a form of digital extortion, and these attacks have been on the rise in recent years. Victims come in all forms, and range from individuals to businesses to the government.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware infects a computer, then locks users out of the system (it can encrypt the data on the hard drive) – and then it holds the decryption key “ransom” until the victim of the attack pays a fee. This can have a negative impact on individuals who cannot access important files, as well as businesses and companies. Those especially damaged include places like hospitals and providers who depend on accessing computer systems to operate. Here’s a good resource for learning more about Ransomware: Wired 

What is the WannaCry Ransomware?

This recent ransomware attack was a global cyberattack during which ransomware  – called WannaCry – was spread to computers in over 150 countries around the world. This impacted both computers and mobile devices, and effected major businesses including a system of hospitals in England and a huge telecom in Spain – with very scary consequences. This version of ransomware was especially bad because it utilized a vulnerability originally discovered by the NSA, details of which were released to the public last month when the Shadow Brokers hacking group stole a variety of NSA tools and released them. The ransomware was written in 27 languages reflecting the global nature of its attack, and had the ability to spread to other computers on the network once it infiltrated one. The attackers charged infected users $300 each to unlock their machines, and when all was said and done over 300,000 computers were “knocked offline” in over 150 countries.

Takeaways

So what does this attack illustrate (aside from the global and alarming nature of vulnerabilities and attacks in general)? Firstly, it illustrates the importance of keeping your machine secure and all your updates up-to-date. In this instance, Microsoft had released a patch when the vulnerability was previously discovered, but many people had not implemented it.  It also illustrates the importance of reaming educated of the risks online, and proactively taking measures to protect your privacy – don’t wait until something bad happens to act, but instead protect your computer from the beginning. Ransomware is just one of the many risks that appears in today’s connected world, so be sure to visit our blog for updates on what’s going on in privacy and security, and the best ways to protect yourself online. For more details on the WannaCry ransomware attack, check out this great Access Now piece.

Sources: CNBC, Wired