Experts have issued advice on how you can protect yourself from ransomware following Friday's cyber attack which hit the NHS.
The attack on Friday is also believe to have hit organisations in at least 74 countries worldwide, leading the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau urging businesses and individuals to follow protection advice immediately and in the coming days.
The ‘Wannacry’ ransomware has spread unchecked through unprotected systems, including many NHS networks in the UK running the outdated Windows XP operating system, which has been unsupported since 2014.
The Crown Commercial Service paid Microsoft £5.5m for one year’s extra support to give government departments 12 months to upgrade their systems, but the additional cost of upgrading the proprietary software meant that many computers were left running the vulnerable XP system.
Following the spread of the virus globally, Microsoft has since issued an “highly unusual” emergency update.
However, it has been reported that new strains of the virus, possibly created after the discovery of the ‘kill switch’ for the existing Wannacry and Microsoft’s update, could start to spread in a similar pattern.
What is ransomware?
A type of cyber attack. Malicious software lets hackers lock files on your computer and encrypt them in a way that you cannot gain access to them until you stump up money.
Where did it originate?
The first documented case was in 2005 in the US.
What is WannaCry?
A form of ransomware that targets Microsoft Windows. When a system is infected, a pop-up window appears with instructions on how to pay a ransom of $300 (£230). The pop-up also features two countdown clocks, one showing a three-day deadline before the ransom doubles, another showing a deadline for when the target will lose their data for ever.
How can you defend yourself?
Do not open suspicious-looking emails that you are not expecting. Do not click on links or download software you don’t know anything about. Do not give people any more access to your system than they need to do their job. Install and use an up-to-date antivirus solution (such as Microsoft Security Essentials). Regularly back up important files.
What to do if you’re a victim – should you pay the ransom?
Victims are advised never to pay the ransom as it encourages the attackers – and anyway, there is no guarantee all files will be returned intact. The best thing to do is restore all files from a back-up.
The National Crime Agency has also issued the following advice for businesses:
Install system and application updates on all devices as soon as they become available.
Install anti-virus software on all devices and keep it updated.
Create regular backups of your important files to a device that isn’t left connected to your network as any malware infection could spread to that too.
Additionally, for individual users:
Only install apps from official app stores, such as Google’s Play Store, or Apple’s App Store as they offer better levels of protection than some third party stores. Jailbreaking, rooting, or disabling any of the default security features of your device will make it more susceptible to malware infections.
The National Cyber Security Centre's latest technical guidance includes specific software patches to use that will prevent uninfected computers on your network from becoming infected with the "WannaCry" ransomware: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/ransomware-latest-ncsc-guidance
Additional in-depth technical guidance on how to protect your organisation from ransomware is also available from the NCSC at https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/protecting-your-organisation-ransomware and on the Microsoft website: http://www.microsoft.com/security/portal/threat/encyclopedia/Entry.aspx?Name=Ransom:Win32/WannaCrypt.
Although Wannacry has been able to spread across networks without any user intervention, there will always be a point where one user in an organisation has clicked on an email link or somehow inadvertently kicked off the journey of the virus across their network. The NCSA has therefore reiterated its usual advice on cyber security:
“Criminals use opportunities like this to further defraud people using phishing and smishing tactics. We would therefore urge people to be cautious and wary when contacted by people who claim to be from the NHS in relation to the ransomware attack.”
Their advice for protection against phishing and smishing (SMS phishing, via text) is as follows:
● An email address can be spoofed. Don’t open attachments or click on the links within any unsolicited emails you receive, and never respond to emails that ask for your personal or financial details.
● The sender’s name and number in a text message can be spoofed, so even if the message appears to be from an organisation you know of, you should still exercise caution; particularly if the texts are asking you to click on a link or call a number.
● Don’t disclose your personal or financial details during a cold call, and remember that the police and banks will never ring you and ask you to verify your PIN, withdraw your cash, or to transfer your money to another “safe” account.
Any individuals or businesses who believe they have been a victim of the ransomware attack are urged to report to Action Fraud.