The Internet is a delight to many. There are just so many things to do on the web that it rendered the word “boredom” obsolete. Tell me can you ever feel bored surfing the web, browsing through social media, or uncovering all the things you can do online. Probably not. With 24/7 access to the web, you can stay up all-day and all-night without ever running out of things to do.
Millions, or even billions, of people, go online daily, not only individuals but even big corporations and the government too. And as such, the potential is likewise limitless for cyber criminals who want nothing but to sow fear and confusion in the hearts and minds of online users while at the same time making money from their digital crimes. The web is indeed not a safe place at all both for the young and old alike.
The ransomware that had just found its way onto Gren’s desktop was simultaneously installing itself onto tens of thousands of other Windows computers across Europe, Asia, and parts of North America. About 30 minutes after Gren’s screen had gone black, the National Health Service in the U.K. announced that computers in 16 of its health facilities had been infected. Doctors were unable to access patient records and emergency rooms were forced to turn people away.
Soon, it was 33 facilities. Then there was a telecommunications company in Spain, a cell phone carrier in Russia, and the French automaker Renault. Anyone using certain versions of Windows that hadn’t been updated within the last month was vulnerable. Within hours, it was being called the most successful ransomware attack of all time.
As reports of new infections in dozens of countries surfaced, and it seemed the outbreak could become an all-out epidemic, a 22-year-old security researcher in the UK made a quick decision. The researcher, who goes by the pseudonym MalwareTech, had gotten a copy of the ransomware program from a friend, and ran it in a test environment on his computer. He noticed the program was trying but failing to reach a web address, a long string of random letters with a dot-com extension.
The word ransomware is all over the news now. It’s a type of malware that locks a user’s PC and keep their data hostage until the victim pays for the ransom, often in bitcoins. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that the crooks will give you your data back after paying the ransom, so victims are highly discouraged from paying.
Latest evidence suggests “phishing” emails are unlikely to have caused the global cyber attack that wreaked havoc at dozens of NHS trusts and hit hundreds of thousands of computers in 150 countries.
Security experts have disputed claims that the virus was spread through suspicious emails, saying that computers were vulnerable to the bug regardless of how vigilant users were. Experts said that unless IT departments patched the virus and backed up their files they could be hit by the attacks.
Affected NHS trusts were criticised for not adding the patch despite warnings from NHS Digital a month ago that they were vulnerable to a possible attack.
The terror this recent ransomware attack has created may have been widespread but the money the hackers got was a measly amount despite the extent of damage it has caused. Government officials should take this new cyber threat seriously because of the inconvenience it causes every time hackers make an attack. People’s lives are put on hold and their computers at risk as the government and the companies involved try to find the solution. It may take just a few hours or longer for some, so everything is put on limbo for the time being.
The thing is, they may be able to slow down the malware’s progress but it still is here, a constant threat to vulnerable systems with equally vulnerable owners who won’t hesitate to shell out the bitcoin ransom money just to put an end to their misery.