The NHS is crippled by the WannaCry virus – what should you do?

Harry Pettit – The Daily Mail

  • Friday, 12th May witnessed a huge ransomware attack on the NHS, which has now spread to computers across the globe. Hackers are claiming ransom cash in exchange for the safe return of files
  • Ransomware attacks are not new, but the speed of this attack is unheard of. In a few hours, the malware had already infected victims in 11 countries. 
  • Ransomware hackers may be using a US National Security Agency cyber weapon

The software locks computers and asks for a digital ransom before control is safely returned.

Ransomware attacks are not new, but the speed of the recent hackings has alarmed security experts.

In a few hours, the malware had already infected victims in at least 74 countries, including Rissia, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam and the Philippines – and is thought to be spreading at a rate of five million emails per hour.

But an attack on such a large scale has never been seen before. Who could be behind the string of attacks, and whether they are connected, remains a mystery.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that criminals use to attack computer systems.

Hackers often demand the victim to pay ransom money to access their files or remove harmful programmes.

The aggressive attacks dupe users into clicking on a fake link – whether it’s in an email or on a fake website, causing an infection to corrupt the computer.

In some instances, adverts for pornographic website will repeatedly appear on your screen, while in others, a pop-up will state that a piece of your data will be destroyed if you don’t pay.

In the case of the NHS attack, the ransomware used was called Wanna Decryptor or ‘WannaCry’ Virus.

What is the WannaCry virus?

The WannaCry virus targets Microsoft’s widely used Windows operating system.

The virus encrypts certain files on the computer and then blackmails the user for money in exchange for the access to the files.

It leaves the user with only two files: Instructions on what to do next and the Wanna Decryptor program itself.

It can quickly spread through an entire network of computers in a business or hospital, encrypting files on every PC.

Ransomware attacks are not new, but the speed of the recent hackings has alarmed security experts. In a few hours, the malware had already infected victims in 11 countries, including Russia, Turkey, Germany, Vietnam, and the Philippines (stock image)

What are the hackers asking for?

The hackers are asking for payments of around £230 ($300) in Bitcoin.

Payments can be sent to at least two anonymous Bitcoin wallets that are routed through the Dark Web and cannot be traced.

Payments appear to be being made to the Bitcoin addresses given in the NHS attack.

It is not possible to say who has paid the ransom so far.

Who could be behind the attacks?

The ransomware attack is one of the largest ever seen.

One cyber-security researcher tweeted that he had detected 36,000 instances of the ransomware, called WannaCry and variants of that name.

Some of the organisations affected do not appear to have been specifically targeted by the attack, meaning it could be spreading at random.

A number of different groups could be behind the string of hackings.

While it is possible a large cyber criminal gang are responsible, the attacks could also be government-orchestrated.

It has previously been suggested that a string of ransomware attacks on US companies last year were perpetrated by Chinese government hackers.

How to protect yourself from ransomware

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid ransomware attacks, and Norton Antivirus has compiled a list of prevention methods:

1. Use reputable antivirus software and a firewall

2. Back up your computer often

3. Set up a popup blocker

4. Be cautious about clicking links inside emails or on suspicious websites

5. If you do receive a ransom note, disconnect from the Internet

6. Alert authorities

FIVE STEPS TO MORE SECURE ONLINE OPERATIONS

Even using this checklist can’t guarantee stopping every attack or preventing every breach. But following these steps will make it significantly harder for hackers to succeed.

1) Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Most major online services, from Amazon to Apple, today support 2FA.

When it’s set up, the system asks for a login and password just like usual – but then sends a unique numeric code to another device, using text message, email or a specialized app.

Without access to that other device, the login is refused. That makes it much harder to hack into someone’s account – but users have to enable it themselves.

2) Encrypt your internet traffic. A virtual private network (VPN) service encrypts digital communications, making it hard for hackers to intercept them.

Everyone should subscribe to a VPN service, some of which are free, and use it whenever connecting a device to a public or unknown Wi-Fi network.

3) Tighten up your password security. This is easier than it sounds, and the danger is real: Hackers often steal a login and password from one site and try to use it on others.

To make it simple to generate – and remember – long, strong and unique passwords, subscribe to a reputable password manager that suggests strong passwords and stores them in an encrypted file on your own computer.

4) Monitor your devices’ behind-the-scenes activities. Many computer programs and mobile apps keep running even when they are not actively in use.

Most computers, phones and tablets have a built-in activity monitor that lets users see the device’s memory use and network traffic in real time.

You can see which apps are sending and receiving internet data, for example. If you see something happening that shouldn’t be, the activity monitor will also let you close the offending program completely.

5) Never open hyperlinks or attachments in any emails that are suspicious.

Even when they appear to come from a friend or coworker, use extreme caution – their email address might have been compromised by someone trying to attack you.

When in doubt, call the person or company directly to check first – and do so using an official number, never the phone number listed in the email.