The ransomware apocalypse: Nobody is safe

Technology is evolving exponentially blurring the line between physical, digital biology, and bioengineering ushering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. According to John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco, ‘in 10 to 15 years, more than 500 billion devices worldwide will be connected to the internet’. The Internet of things (IoT) is becoming an increasingly growing subject of discussion resulting from the rise of internet computing devices that are part of our daily lives. From washing machines, coffee makers, mobile phones, refrigerators, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.

This change associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society has made life super convenient. However, on the flipside, digital transformation has come at a cost. Cyber criminals have taken this opportunity to swindle organizations. Cyber-attacks are on the rise and cybercriminals are getting sophisticated. They are leveraging on vulnerabilities in computer operating systems to download malware onto computer systems and use it to unlock victims’ information and demand payment in order to lock it. The first case of ransomware attacks was reported in Russia but the use of ransomware scams has grown internationally.

Last month, WannaCry ransomware hackers attacked over 230,000 computers in more than one hundred and fifty countries. It’s on track to be one of the biggest recorded ransomware attacks ever. This was just a culmination and a grand reveal to the entire world of just how immense of a threat this is. WannaCry ransomware crypto worm leveraged a vulnerability in the Microsoft Windows Operating system, encrypted data and demanded ransom payment in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. In Britain, hospitals were forced to close their services when the malware blocked access to their files.

The computer from which the virus originates and spreads is known by experts as a ‘zombie computer’. This is the initiation plug that hackers use to spread wider attacks. The consequences of an attack can be severe. Such attacks are mostly waged against businesses, but can also affect individuals. An assault on a businesses’ IT infrastructure could be the difference between staying afloat or going under.

How businesses can avert a cybersecurity breach

In the wake of this great threat posed by ransomware and the associated financial implications, how can businesses protect themselves from ransomware attacks?

  • Back up your files.
    Outwit attackers by not being vulnerable to their threats in the first place. Information and files on your devices need to be backed up in a completely separate system. External hard drives that are not connected to the internet are a good place to back up. This implies that if you suffer an attack, information won’t be lost to hackers. Backups will not necessarily make an attack painless since it can take a week or more to restore data during which business operations may be impaired or halted.
  • Use an antivirus program.
    Most antivirus programs can scan files to see if they might be breached before downloading them. They can block secret installations from malicious adverts when you’re browsing the web, and look for malware that may already be on a computer or device.
  • Be unsure of emails, websites, and apps.
    Hackers download malware onto a victim’s computer for the ransomware to work. This involves spamming you with emails that carry a malicious attachment, malicious adverts on websites, and questionable apps and programs. The ‘spray-n-pray’ phishing attack is every hacker’s favorite bait. Caution is required when opening unsolicited emails or visiting unfamiliar websites.
  • Always install updates.
    It is advisable to always download the newest version of a software as soon as it is available since companies often release software updates to fix vulnerabilities that can be exploited to install ransomware.
  • When infected, disconnect
    When hit with ransomware, it is advisable to immediately shut down infected systems from the corporate network to prevent the infection from spreading. Disabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on machines will further prevent the infection from spreading.

Technology is still evolving and the threat posed by this evolution is unprecedented. Hackers have managed to remotely compromise autonomous vehicles’ systems, power grids and corporate networks. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Always anticipate and be proactive.

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