IGI Global contributors express their thoughts on recent massive cyber-attack

WannaCry Ransomware, Cybersecurity Massive Scare

By Alex Johnson on Jun 2, 2017
In today’s technologically-inclined society most everything and everyone is connected, from the small devices we keep in our pockets everywhere we go to computers and tablets that are becoming more and more powerful with what they are able to do. But what happens when that same technological crutch is exploited and turned against the very people who depend on it daily?

wannacry, cybersecurity, ransomware, computer hack The most recent malware cyber-attack, dubbed WannaCry, was a brutal wake-up call that rang through over 100 countries, but focused primarily in Europe and the surrounding areas. The virus disrupted major parts of the international infrastructure, mainly healthcare services. Once a network was infected the virus would lock users out of their data until they paid a ransom in the form of Bitcoin, a type of digital currency. But just how did this global attack gain traction? The WannaCry ransomware infecting computer networks was based off an exploit in an older version of Microsoft Windows, which was originally discovered by the U.S National Security Agency (NSA). Any computer with this specific version of Windows that also did not download their most recent update, which was in March earlier this year, was susceptible to this attack. This information was then accessed by hackers and leaked online. The culprit(s), as well as the motive, remain unclear, but one thing that has been made blatantly apparent in these past weeks is that cybersecurity and cyberthreats are a very real and relevant concern.

Dr. Emily Stacey, a political science professor at both Rose State and Oklahoma City Community College, shared her thoughts on the incident.

“WannaCry was a warning shot to the global information community. Yes, we should all be concerned by the potential to exploit . . . highly sophisticated code to benefit a nation-state, or bad actors around the world.” She adds, “[T]he other glaring issue is that many large organizations were given the ability to ‘fix’ the vulnerability in March, which the virus exploits on Windows known as EternalBlue, but these organizations did not perform the update, which led to this large scale and tragic user error situation.” Dr. Stacey concludes that “the effects [of WannaCry] were mild compared to what is to come in the future.”

Professor Maximiliano Korstanje associate professor at the University of Palermo and Dr. Michelle Moore, adjunct professor at George Mason University with over 20 years in the cyber security industry both seem to share this ominous sentiment.

Prof. Korstanje: “WannaCry ransomware is a real threat for cyber-security. [Cyber] terrorism will be intensified in the decades to come.”

Dr. Moore: “This attack was ultimately inevitable.” Dr. Moore further elaborates, “ . . . incidents like WannaCry are just the tip of the iceberg . . . If we make ourselves vulnerable then we will be exploited. Being aware of these vulnerabilities and acting upon them is our best defense but being proactive instead of reactive will only make us stronger.”

With these predictions that cyber terrorism will continue to increase over the next few years, is it possible for the consumer to follow Dr. Moore’s advice of proactivity?

“The first thing is to be well protected against external threats,” Professor Korstanje advises. “This can be achieved by spending money on sophisticated anti-virus software.”

Dr. Moore agrees, adding, “The most important thing is to ensure you always update/download the latest patches when they come out, don't wait. There will always be hackers and malware out there to exploit anything showing vulnerability so it is important to be cognizant on security updates and staying alert.”

But the user must be wary of more than just suspicious emails.

“[A]void any insecure webpage which may transmit viruses or malware,” urges Professor Korstanje, while adding the always important recommendation to “regularly backup copies of all your work on pen drives or other devices.”

It appears everybody who uses a technological device now is aware of the general security tips to protect valuable personal information and the experts agree that following these best practices is essential for protecting data. From creating strong and ever-changing passwords, to downloading and continuously updating anti-virus and malware software, consumers have been taught and are employing the basics. But is that enough? “I think that we as a digital society have opted into this ‘cloud-based culture' where no data is really private, and is only as secure as the platform being used,” Dr. Stacey explains. “The basics, (changing passwords often, investing in encryption, back-up data on a personal hard drive) are fine but the very first thing that one should do before opting in, is to READ, DIGEST, and COMPREHEND the terms of service that we are blindly agreeing to.”

Dr. Stacey’s suggestion to read the fine print may seem cumbersome in today’s fast-paced society, where even taking the time to fill out a form can be considered inconvenient. Yet, if understanding where the information is being shared and with whom prevents stolen information, perhaps it is time we slow down and start asking questions.

“Companies are not hiding what they intend to do with your data,” Dr. Stacey concludes, “the burden is on us (the consumer) to truly understand what this means for us in our everyday lives.”

A sincere thanks to Dr. Michelle Moore, Dr. Emily Stacey, and Professor Maximiliano Korstanje for sharing their thoughts on the WannaCry attack. For more information on the topic of cybersecurity and threats, please take the time to review the related publications below:

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