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Global ransomware attack taste of things to come?

May 15, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Australia and its travel industry seem so far to have escaped the global ransomware epidemic that swept the world over the weekend and spread to tens of thousands of computers in about 100 countries. The crunch, if there is one, will happen this morning when millions of people return to work and switch on computers.

The Australian government’s Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) advises:

  • The Ransomware leverages publicly known vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, patched by Microsoft in March this year (Microsoft Security Bulletin MS17-010)
  • Microsoft has released updates for Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003. Downloads are linked from Microsoft’s article: Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt attacks.
  • Australian organisations are strongly recommended to apply these patches as soon as possible to prevent infection by this Ransomware campaign. Users should also ensure that they have backed up their important data to an offline location.

The attack, the worst and most widespread ever recorded, was brought under partial control by a British researcher who found a “kill switch” to slow the spread of the malicious code.

Germany’s rail network was reportedly thrown into chaos on Friday night when it fell victim to the attack, allegedly perpetrated by a mysterious cyber-gang calling itself The Shadow Brokers.

A photo taken at a German railway station, showing an electronic timetable display paralysed by ransomware, was posted on Twitter.

Hospitals and public utilities in many countries were also affected.

Ransomware is a type of malware that infects a computer system by restricting access to data, unless a ransom is paid to a scammer for the restriction to be removed. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the consumer advocacy group Choice have both issued warnings about ransomware in recent years, with the ACCC reporting that ransomware such as Cryptolocker was one of the biggest problems to hit small business in the first half of 2016.

In 2015 the ACCC said it had received over 2500 ransomware and malware complaints over the previous 12 months, with nearly a million dollars reported lost by small businesses and consumers.

In the latest attack, when users try to access an infected machine, an onscreen notice appears in the local language warning that the data has been encrypted. It demands payment of USD 300 in bitcoins to restore it.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Saturday there had been no confirmed reports of an impact on Australian organisations at that stage.

“The Prime Minister’s Cyber Security Special Adviser is working with the Australian Cyber Security Centre and health agencies in Australia to determine any impact to Australia,” the spokesman told ABC News.

The ACCC warned 18 months ago that ransomware scams could have a devastating effect on a small business.

“Ransomware can also see your business losing all of its business and financial records, which may be catastrophic,” a spokesperson said.

Scammers claim that they will unlock the computer if a fee is paid. However, even if you pay the ransom, the ACCC warns, there is no guarantee your computer will be unlocked and you’re likely to be up for expensive repairs to your computer and the loss of your invaluable data.

After the latest attack, experts (including the British programmer who designed the “kill switch” to help combat the virus) have advised that the criminals behind it are likely to re-write codes for another attempt.

Tips to avoid cyber attack.

The ACCC’s Scamwatch gives the following advice:

  • Ensure your computer has a firewall and up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
  • Do not click on links or download files in emails you receive out of the blue; especially if they are executable (.exe) files or zip files. These files are likely to contain malware.
  • Use a pop-up blocker as a lot of ransomware is delivered after following links in pop-up alerts.
  • If there is any doubt about the legitimacy of an email supposedly from a legitimate business, do not rely on contact details or links provided or open any attachments – contact the organisation using the number in the telephone directory or on their official website to verify.
  • Regularly back-up your computer’s data on a separate hard drive so this can be easily re-installed if your computer is infected by malware or ransomware.

Written by Peter Needham

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