Monday, January 18, 2021

Cyberattack ransomware may have aftershocks


A massive ransomware cyberattack Friday, which demanded payment from Microsoft Windows users in order to relinquish control of their computers, has prompted a response from the Trump administration after hospitals in the UK turned away patients and cancelled surgeries because they were unable to use their computers, the New York Times reports.

The attack didn’t target Windows 10 or above but rather zoomed in on older versions of the operating system, like XP, which Microsoft had stopped updating. Users would receive an illegitimate email, click on a link, and install the malware. The malware worm, or virus, is of a type known as “ransomware,” which seizes control of the user’s computer and only lets go after that user pays a fee. One hospital in the UK reportedly paid the equivalent of about $900,000 in order to get back control of their own computers.

Individual users who download ransomware are generally advised just to buy a new computer, rather than paying criminals, but that may not be an option for users of large networks, such as those in place at a hospital—or in our case, a school or school district.

Upgrading these computer systems, or even installing a newly provided patch that takes advantage of a vulnerability the developers of this “WannaCrypt” worm forgot to plug, will take time. Meanwhile, it is likely those criminals are now developing an updated version of WannaCrypt that will close the loophole, making subsequent versions of the worm even more dangerous to Windows users worldwide.

President Donald Trump said today he has ordered his homeland security adviser, Thomas P Bossert, to coordinate an official response to the spread of the malware. Mr Bossert has a strong background in cybersecurity issues. He will also help security experts organize the search for who was responsible.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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