Technology: What Does WannaCry Teach Us?

The global ransomware attack dubbed WannaCry marked an unwelcome precedent in the dark world of cybercrime. It is the first cyberattack that combined ransomware with the self-propagating power of a “worm” to generate a wide-ranging, global attack, affecting some 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries with the toll still rising. The hackers behind the scheme took standard ransomware and were able to replicate it on a global scale.

Ransomware has been around for a while. It is malware that encrypts all the contents on a computer user’s hard-drive, locking them behind a password. Typically, it comes with a demand for payment (a ransom) and a deadline. Notably, this international malware attack, WannaCry, snarled the operations of the entire National Health Service in the U.K., forcing hospitals to cancel surgeries and preventing patients from accessing emergency services. It created a nightmare that many cybercrime analysts had foretold – one that experts had warned us would happen unless we beefed up with stronger security throughout the internet.

Web security experts have been trying to warn us that cybersecurity is only as strong as the weakest link on the internet. Now, perhaps we know what they mean. Here’s what you should know:

  • Small businesses statistically are targeted frequently by cybercrooks – nearly one-third of all reported attacks occur at firms with less than 250 employees.
  • More than 50 percent of cyberattacks can be attributed to human error at the targeted company.
  • Any organization that uses remote and/or third-party employees is especially vulnerable; i.e. any firm where employees are able to access and transmit corporate data via their own personal devices. Remote workers and onsite staff using personal technology (smart phones, iPads, laptops, etc.) to connect with company data potentially provide hackers with many entry points for malware like WannaCry.
  • The only way to avoid being vulnerable is to install security patches and updates as soon as operating system companies and software manufacturers issue updates.
  • Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows XP – although the company did release emergency patches for XP and 2003 in response to the WannaCry crisis. If this doesn’t convince you to ditch out-of-date operating systems, it is hard to know what will. The longer you continue to use systems that are no longer supported by Microsoft and other OS providers, the greater risk you run of being a ransomware victim.
  • Although the cost to businesses of cyberattacks like WannaCry can be astronomical when we tally the full cost of lost income, interruptions to business operations and the cost of remedial work, the impact on human lives and safety is incalculable when essential health care services like the U.K.’s National Health Service are brought to a halt.
  • Keeping yourself educated on what’s happening in cybersecurity is crucial. It is also vital that your staff training programs educate your employees on how to keep their computers updated, and that you have appropriate guidelines and rules for employees who use personal devices (unprotected by your firewalls) to interact with company technology.
  • Be proactive. Develop an action plan – engage a consultant to help if needed – so that your employees know how to spot potential problems and know what to do if the company does become the target of a ransomware attack.

The experts believe that WannaCry might just be the first of many global ransomware attacks. Your best defense is a proactive stance and a willingness to learn from the hard lessons many organizations received from this recent cyber blackmail.