Global Cyber Hack 101

News headlines across the world warned of a global cyber hack by ransomware WannaCry last week. The global hack was first identified on 12 May 2017 and affected numerous businesses, banks, hospitals, and government agencies around the world. BGR estimates 57,000 computers were affected in over 150 countries. WannaCry is a type of ransomware – a software that encrypts your files and will only decrypt them if you pay a ransom in bitcoins (digital currency), if not the software will delete all your files. The cyber security expert Marcus Hutchins discovered a way to slow down the software that was attacking the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK and causing nationwide disruption and panic. However, the software has yet to be stopped. It is important to note that this global attack did far less damage than it could have done. We all use the internet yet few of us know how it works, how to be safe, and what to do when we’re affected by viruses and hacks. Thus, if we are going to use the internet, it is of the utmost importance that we educate ourselves about it.

According to Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright, the scale of this global cyber-attack has been “unprecedented,” and ransomware is becoming an increasing threat to global security. Some other prominent bodies affected by the hack are the Russian Interior Ministry, Chinese government agencies, the US-based company FedEx Corp, and PetroChina. WannaCry is the result of information gained from the US National Security Agency (NSA) by a hacking group named The Shadow Brokers. BGR states that they released the NSA’s information on a web exploit named “EternalBlue” last month. This is not the last we have seen of the WannaCry ransomware. Cyber security experts everywhere are warning Windows’ computer owners to run their firewalls, do security scans, and backup their data.

Whilst the size of this attack has been alarming, cyber security experts are more concerned by the threat of Botnets. As the website, Tom’s Guide describes, botnets are essentially robot networks where a group of computers are affected by malware that allows a remote operator to take control of a computer without the user’s knowledge or consent. Often cyber criminals will create this malware for the highest bidder. They willingly collude with drug traffickers, criminals and all sorts if rogue, non-state actors – even terrorists. National infrastructure, such as health services, are most at risk. For example, hospital machines can be shut down remotely at the click of a button. Thus, botnets pose a massive threat to state and international security.

What does this mean for us and our personal cyber security? We need to educate ourselves about how the internet works and how to protect ourselves from malware, hackers, and cyber terrorism. This new frontier of warfare is so lethal because of its ability to shut down entire countries and their daily infrastructure, holding government bodies and public services hostage. Moreover, cyber warfare can affect you in everyday life, in ways that wars in faraway lands cannot. For further information on cyber security and how to protect yourself, search online and look at sites such as the National Cyber Security Alliance, SANS Cyber Aces, and Tor.

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