May 13, 2017 – Urgent update about massive ransomware attack

Yesterday a massive ransomware attack targeted computers in seventy-four countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Spain, France and India.   The strain of ransomware used is called WannaCrypt and it was developed to take advantage of a Microsoft Windows Operating System flaw called EternalBlue which was made public by hackers of the National Security Agency.   This ransomware is available in 28 languages.

This is a problem that should not have happened for many reasons.  The particular Microsoft vulnerability that this ransomware exploits has been patched, but some companies, government agencies and individuals had not yet installed the patches when they had become available recently.  In addition, many of the affected computers were using outdated Windows operating systems, such as Windows XP which are no longer regularly updated with new security patches.  These older unsupported systems should not be used by anyone.  Microsoft has taken the unprecedented step of providing security patches for these unsupported systems now in addition to its already issued security updates for presently supported Microsoft programs.  Here is a link to an important memo from Microsoft with links to free security updates if you are still using one of those older operating systems.

Customer Guidance for WannaCrypt attacks

TIPS

This ransomware attack was primarily launched using phishing emails to lure unsuspecting people into clicking on links or downloading attachments tainted with the Wannacrypt ransomware.  As I am constantly reminding you, never click on links or download attachments until you have confirmed that they are legitimate.

You also should update all of your electronic devices with the latest security updates and patches as soon as they become available, preferably automatically.

As for protecting yourself specifically from ransomware, you should back up all of your data in at least two different platforms, such as in the Cloud and on a portable hard drive. Companies and agencies which can afford to do this, should also use Whitelisting software which prevents the installation of any unauthorized computer software programs.

Unfortunately, this is not going to be the last time that you learn about this type of story.

Scam of the day – December 31, 2016 – President takes action against Russian hackers

In the last Scam of the day for 2016 it is appropriate that we discuss the issue of Russian hacking of American organizations that occurred in 2015 and 2016 that were intended to influence the Presidential election.  Two days ago, President Obama ordered sanctions against Russia including the ejection of 35 Russians spies that the administration said were posing as diplomats and specific actions against three organizations that it said supported the hacking operations.  The possibility of further covert actions against Russia was also hinted at.

A day prior to the President’s announced sanctions, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a joint analysis report entitled “Grizzly Steppe – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity” in which it provided details about the hackings.  Here is a link to the report.

https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/JAR_16-20296A_GRIZZLY%20STEPPE-2016-1229.pdf

TIPS

Although the report contains important information about Russian hacking of American institutions, the report also provides a long list of specific steps that institutions and individuals can take to avoid being a victim of cybercrime.

Here are just a few of the things that all of us as individuals should consider.

  1. Backup all important information offline.
  2. Be on the alert for spear phishing. The report emphasizes, as I have warned you about for years, that the primary cause of hacking is people clicking on links in spear phishing emails that download malware.  Use both anti-phishing security software as well as your own brain to refrain from clicking on links in emails unless you have absolutely confirmed that they are legitimate.
  3. Use strong firewalls with whitelisting configurations by which only approved applications will be allowed to be downloaded on to your computers.  This is much better than blacklisting because it protects you from threats about which you know nothing.
  4. Limit the personal information you provide on social media.
  5. Use dual factor authentication whenever possible.