Security Get Protected
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By Mark Phillips ¦ ¦ Updated 15th May 2017, 07.31 EDT

If any further proof was needed of ransomware’s continual threat in today’s world, it’s now being splashed across international headlines following a mass-scale global attack. Britain is renowned for its top-tier public health service, the NHS, but many of its hospitals have now been brought to their knees after computer systems were aggressively breached.

Countless appointments and operations had to be cancelled after forty-five NHS organisations and trusts found themselves locked out of patient records and company medical systems. Users were met by a pop-up that read ‘Ooops, your files have been encrypted!’, followed by a file deletion timer and $300 ransom demand to be paid via Bitcoin currency.

With ambulances being diverted from struggling hospitals, and medics pushed to breaking point, NHS staff have urged all patients to consider the severity of their affliction before checking in to A&E departments.

Russia is believed to have suffered the worst blow of those countries reported to have fallen victim to ransomware attacks. Russia’s interior ministry has been breached, along with domestic phone network giant Megafon. Among other countries, Germany’s railway ticketing machines were targeted, along with Spanish companies such as Telefonica and Gas Natural, with FedEx also reporting a hit.

According to experts, the unprecedented mass-scale cyber attack is thought to use code developed by the US National Security Agency which was recently leaked by an online group known as the Shadow Brokers. The Shadow Brokers spread the attack by using the NSA code, known as Eternal Blue, which the hackers called a hacking tool belonging to the US spy agency.

Ninety percent of NHS trusts are running day-to-day operations on Windows XP, an extremely outdated software platform that is considered to be vulnerable and even obsolete given it was released fifteen years ago.

“Windows XP is not a good platform for keeping your data as secure as the modern ones, because you can’t download the effective patches and anti-virus software for defending against viruses,”

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. The malware, estimated to be spreading at a rate of five million emails per hour, has made tens of thousands of victims across a reported ninety-nine countries, including the US, Mexico, Australia, France and Italy.
Lauri Love, a computer expert facing US extradition over alleged government computer data theft, believes the cyber attack is being fuelled by a formidable “cyber weapon” utilized by US spies.

“It appears the cyber attack affected so many computers in the UK in the NHS and in Spain by taking advantage of a very nasty vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, which was dumped by hacking group Shadow Brokers who obtained it from the NSA in America.”

The constant threat of cyber crime may remain a reality of modern life, but that doesn’t mean companies, organizations and home users can’t take effective preventative measures against becoming a victim. Computer users can benefit from utilizing a reputable antivirus application and firewalls, performing regular data backups, setting up pop-up blockers, and always being vigilant when opening suspicious emails, website links and ads.

Should a user suffer a ransomware attack, it is advised that they immediately disconnect from the internet and alert the appropriate authorities. While paying a ransom fee may seem like the only via option, it is ill-advised since there is no guarantee that the user’s data will be reinstated.

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