How to protect yourself from weeping over a 'WannaCry' attack - Times LIVE
Tue May 23 07:04:40 SAST 2017

How to protect yourself from weeping over a 'WannaCry' attack

Roxanne Henderson | 2017-05-15 18:58:12.0
The WannaCry virus‚ which started spreading worldwide on Friday‚ had locked up more than 200‚000 computers in over 150 countries‚ including South Africa‚ by Sunday. File photo
Image by: Kacper Pempel / REUTERS

If you thought your family photographs were unlikely to find their way into the grubby paws of computer hackers and be held for ransom‚ you may want to reconsider.

A global ransomware attack wormed its way onto the computers of hospitals‚ companies‚ state agencies and individuals this weekend.

The WannaCry virus‚ which started spreading worldwide on Friday‚ had locked up more than 200‚000 computers in over 150 countries‚ including South Africa‚ by Sunday.

On Monday the rate of infection has slowed down‚ but ransomware attacks are likely to continue flaring up‚ experts have warned.

“This is a big wake-up call all over the world‚ though there have been other wake-up calls.

"I don't think this is the end‚ we are going to see more of this in coming weeks. There are so many copycats in cybercrime that will duplicate this attack‚” said Professor Basie von Solms‚ director of the University of Johannesburg's Centre for Cyber Security.

Shipping company FedEx was counted in the fallout‚ with its South African operation also affected. In the UK the NHS was forced to turn away patients at some of its hospitals. Car manufacturer Renault shut down some of its French factories in order to restore its network's security‚ while a Nissan plant in England was also affected. But not only companies and governments are in the danger zone.

“There will be huge fallout‚ even in South Africa‚ because the attacks do not target a specific country or industry. Companies must take necessary precautions‚ but governments also have a role to play.

“If you are hit and haven't backed up your data‚ even if you are a housewife with only family photos on your computer‚ you are going to lose everything‚” Von Solms warned.

WannaCry is spread through Eternal Blue‚ digital code believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency. The code was leaked by a hacking collective known as the Shadow Brokers in March.

Microsoft patched the exploit‚ but those who did not patch in time were vulnerable to the attack.

Cyber security expert and head of LAWtrust Aleksandar Valjarevic said the public must be educated on the importance of operating system updates.

“Software vendors are always working to keep software up to date and safe from being compromised. So there could be a fault in the software that gets picked up either by a hacker or by the company‚ and once it is fixed users will get an alert to install the update.

“The update has the fix in it‚ if these updates are ignored the weaknesses remain‚ making machines vulnerable to attack.”

While the usual requirement of antivirus and firewalls are necessary‚ these do not enough to provide full protection‚ Valjarevic said.

If you are hit and your data is backed up‚ you are in control. If you are not backed up or your backing up system fails‚ you may be at the mercy of crooks asking for a ransom to return your data.

In the case of WannaCry hackers were asking for amounts of between $300 and $600 in Bitcoins.

Barry Dwolatsky‚ from the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering‚ said those paying the ransom perpetuate the crime.

“The problem is that if you pay the ransom the problem is you encourage the next attack. The worst thing to do is to pay the ransom – even if you do pay it‚ there's no way you can ensure [your data] will come back.”

Arthur Goldstuck stressed the importance of tested backing up systems and being in the know.

“Anyone who is a victim is one due to negligence. If you're using computers to run your business you've got a responsibility to be aware of computer issues.

“If you're not backing up your data you're looking for trouble‚ and in this case‚ trouble has found you.”

Company should be insured against losses incurred during cyber-attacks‚ Goldstuck said.

He also advised against the urge to follow links and open emails and attachments from unknown sources.

State Security Agency spokesperson Brian Dube said the agency will brief the media on details relating to the spread of WannaCry in South Africa on Tuesday.

Moscow-based cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab revealed in its 2016 Corporate IT Security Risks Survey that 19% of businesses in South Africa experienced ransomware attacks in the preceding 12 months.

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