16 May Protect Against the 2017 Ransomware Attack
By Dan Webb, Software Engineer, B² Interactive
Over the past seven days, the spread of a computer virus that holds your PC and all of its files for “ransom,” demanding payment to have your files restored, was released and has subsequently been slowed, but you may still be vulnerable to attack.
What Is the Ransomware Attack Doing?
The computer virus, which has been named “WannaCry” (WanaCrypt0r 2.0, aka WCry), is a type of malware that exploits vulnerabilities within Microsoft Windows, locking users out of their files unless they pay a ransom to have it unlocked.
When the virus attacks a computer, a ransom note demanding $300 in Bitcoin appears on the user’s screen. After three days, the amount doubles. After seven days without payment, your data is allegedly deleted.
The attacks were initially focused on Russia, Ukraine, and Taiwan, but they’ve since spread to as many as 99 countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any Russian involvement amidst increased scrutiny about the Russian government’s involvement in cyberattacks against foreign governments.
Microsoft then blamed the U.S. government for the attacks this weekend, as they confirmed the WannaCry virus was designed based on exploits stolen from the NSA earlier this year by hackers in what was called “Vault7.” They then called for “urgent collective action to keep people safe online.”
Following the release of those stolen exploits, Microsoft quickly released a security patch in March that fixed the vulnerabilities and secured common applications such as Explorer, Edge, Office, and others beyond just the Windows operating system. The patch also secured the following Windows operating systems:
- Windows Vista
- Windows Server 2008
- Windows 7
- Windows Server 2008 R2
- Windows 8.1
- Windows Server 2012
- Windows Server 2012 R2
- Windows RT 8.1
- Windows 10
- Windows Server 2016
Noticeably absent from the initial list of patches was the commonly used Windows XP operating system, which is still popular among businesses like banks. Over the weekend, Microsoft announced a patch for the 15-year-old OS, but for many businesses that still use the old operating system, the patch may have been too late.
One major business that has confirmed being attacked is FedEx. A statement from the company on Friday said its systems were “experiencing interference” due to malware and that it was trying to fix the issue as quickly as possible. Many other businesses and hospitals have fallen victim to WannaCry in the past week.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Although it’s been reported that someone inadvertently activated a kill switch in the WannaCry code, it’s believed the hackers will simply change the code and continue exploiting victims.
The best ways to protect your PC, files, and business data from potential ransomware attacks both now and in the future is to first ensure your computers are updated with the security patch Microsoft released on March 14, 2017. Also, if you or your business hosts a website on a Windows server like IIS, call your hosting company to confirm that all necessary steps have been taken to ensure your data isn’t lost.
Finally and most importantly, be wary of any and all emails you receive from unknown contacts, as well as the URLs you click. A phishing scheme that targeted Google Docs users was reported earlier in May and was created to be nearly identical to a regular Google login screen. Regardless if you’re opening an email from a trusted sender, make sure that the files and links attached are what you were expecting.
WannaCry is just the latest in what seems like a string of cyberattacks. While a Microsoft patch should be enough to protect your data from this attack, you should back up any personal and client data housed on your personal PC or web server at least once a day to mitigate the risk from malware like WannaCry or any future attacks.
B² Interactive is a web design, SEO, and local search optimization firm based in Omaha, Neb., that serves clients throughout the U.S. B² Interactive works with businesses of all sizes, from small companies looking to create their first website to Fortune 500 organizations requiring complete integrated digital marketing and web development solutions. B² Interactive operates digital marketing agency Hurrdat and video production company Hurrdat Films based in Lincoln, Neb.