Monday, 17 December, 2018

Protecting Windows-Based Computers From WannaCry Ransomware

Kenny Thornton | 20 May, 2017, 02:25

The concept is simple. When this happens, you can't get to the data unless you pay a ransom. The hackers do not always release the ransomed data and files after receiving payment. Those who design these systems know their market, and it's a profitable one.

There's a blame game brewing over who's responsible for the past week's cyberattack that infected hundreds of thousands of computers. About 10 per cent of the total computers of the district administration were affected by the ransomware, according to district collector P Bharathi, reported PTI.

But it does have an interesting pedigree. Our own National Security Agency discovered that vulnerability and weaponized it, kind of like turning a vitamin-deficient food into a deadly poison.

"The WannaCrypt exploits used in the attack were drawn from the exploits stolen from the National Security Agency, or NSA, in the United States". Microsoft released a patch to plug the vulnerability which fixed several workstation versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system, including Windows Vista and Windows 8.1, as well as server and embedded versions such as Windows Server 2008 and Windows Embedded POSReady 2009 respectively, but not the older Windows XP. "In many organisations, sad but true, the need for constant availability trumps security". But without the ability to receive security-focused software updates, those systems are left at risk. This isn't just good advice to defend against ransomware, but good advice in general. Your vehicle and television, the traffic lights and signals in your city and national power grid are all computers.

Much of the discussion in the aftermath of the attack is focusing on what preventive steps internet users and corporations can take. It's coming, and faster than you might think. Make sure your back up is not connected to the internet.

It's only a matter of time before people get messages on their auto screens saying that the engine has been disabled and it will cost US$200 in bitcoin to turn it back on. You can get unlimited data backup for as little as $59.99 per year for a basic plan. Thankfully they only want money this time around.

This isn't just theoretical. If the device under attack has no screen, you'll get the message on the smartphone app you control it from. "That is the only way that governments will come to recognize that this is not a program that will continue to pay off". One of the leaked Central Intelligence Agency attack tools targets internet-enabled Samsung smart televisions. Overworked systems administrators work within limited budgets. As expert Troy Hunt notes in a blog post about the attack, interest in ransomware has been on the rise, but especially since early 2016. The updates can take a long time. Also, it was reported Tuesday over 120 computers of the Gujarat government's Wide Area Network, GSWAN, were hit, as were some government systems in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

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Companies providing financial technology are struggling to ensure that all ATMs are running on updated software.

That won't happen with low-priced internet-of-things devices.

When Microsoft sells software it does so through a licensing agreement that states the company is not liable for any security breaches, said Michael Scott, a professor at Southwestern Law School. The economics doesn't allow for it. These two directives are incompatible in a global system: weaknesses exploited to attack an adversary are making the home networks equally vulnerable. You can see how many computers have been infected here. The market is not going to fix this unaided.

Not only is security the responsibility of the manufacturer, but also of the consumer as the latter is responsible for updating their devices to the latest software provided to protect against such attacks.

This attack, however, is an indication that as technology gets more enabling and efficient, it'll also need higher security standards in order to battle the sophisticated attacks. There are government-backed initiatives to help small companies with cybersecurity, such as the UK's Cyber Essentials, but these don't have the scale to reach everyone or even identify and help those most in need. You may lose some data, but it's a lot better than losing access to all of your files.

Schneier is a security technologist and a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


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