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May 2017

Yet more ransomware

It will come as no surprise to you that this week’s article will cover the recent malware attack on the NHS and other major enterprises across the world.

The ransomware in question is called WannaCry (also known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, Wanna Decryptor 2.0, WCry 2, WannaCry 2 and Wanna Decryptor 2) and in less than four hours, it had infected NHS computers,
beginning in Lancashire, and then spreading throughout the NHS’s internal network.

Although the NHS does not seem to have been specifically targeted, many
NHS trusts still use Windows XP, a version of Microsoft’s operating system that reached its “End of Life” on 8th April 2014. This meant that Microsoft stopped providing security updates or technical support for Windows XP, which instantly made the system vulnerable to a huge array of threats. Even though, in March, Microsoft released a patch for XP & Vista, the NHS failed to implement it!!

In case you missed the furore surrounding this cyber-attack, ransomware is a type of malware that infects a PC and then encrypts data files or even the entire system. Once all the files are encrypted, it posts a message asking for payment (usually in Bitcoins, a digital currency) for a code that will restore the files and threatens to destroy the information if it doesn’t get paid, often with a timer attached to put the pressure on. Even worse is that the hackers often take the payment but still do not unlock the data.

Most ransomware is spread hidden within Word documents, PDFs and other files normally sent via email, or through a secondary infection on computers already affected by viruses that offer a back door for further attacks.

So, it has now been proven that computer users who continue to run Windows XP are playing a very risky game. Unfortunately, this irresponsibility then puts other computer users at risk because their systems end up hosting and distributing malware and viruses. Continuing to use Windows XP on the public internet is very much like going out in public with a virus and coughing on people.

If you are still using an XP machine, STOP! You need to upgrade your existing computer or, if your existing computer is too ancient to upgrade, buy a new one.

For users of the most recent Microsoft operating systems, do protect yourselves by installing
antivirus software and keeping your operating system and applications up-to-date. Don’t visit any suspicious sites or open email attachments from unknown sources. Most importantly, you really must perform regular back-ups of ALL YOUR DATA onto an external hard-drive, then immediately unplug the device from your computer since ransomware can encrypt what is on that as well as what is on the computer.