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Pirated Windows copies helped to spread the WannaCry ransomware

Pirated Windows copies helped to spread the WannaCry ransomware

The world is reeling in the aftermath of the latest massive cyberattack.

This latest mayhem was caused by a virulent strain of ransomware, which encrypts an infected computer's data and demands a ransom for the keys to unlock it. Banks have passed on the directive to their management service providers. But the ransomware making headlines, called WannaCry, is a bit unusual. The ransomware appeared to have hit some 100,000 systems, more than half in Russian Federation, according to a tweet yesterday by malware researcher Jakub Kroustek.

Over the weekend, hospitals in the United Kingdom were forced to turn away some patients as a result of a computer virus that had infected its systems.

Despite downplay of ransomware WannaCry's impact by the Centre; IT experts have cautioned users that the number of effected organizations is expected to rise rapidly.

Malware-tracking maps show WannaCry has remained active in Europe over the past 24 hours.

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However, one warning for this particular malware seems novel: the success of WannaCry was such that the attackers may not have the resources to process all the payments made by victims, with no other avenue of reproach. As a result, non-emergency operations were suspended and ambulances were being diverted to other hospitals. Permanently losing access to their customer data, client information and other critical data would be unthinkable, so they cough up and then keep quiet about it to protect their reputations.

The ransomware attack exploits a vulnerability in older Windows OS, including Windows 8, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

The infection is the most widespread "ransomware" event ever seen. If WannaCry infects even a single computer in a network, due to one person's negligence, it will immediately spread to each and every computer in the network. Within the emails is a.zip file, and clicking on the file initiates the WannaCry payload. This one has a particularly interesting pedigree: It's based on a vulnerability developed by the National Security Agency that can be used against many versions of the Windows operating system. However, the NSA has neither confirmed nor denied this fact. It appears that it only took a couple of months for malicious hackers to make good on that prediction.

Other researchers agree. "Right now there is no clear indication of the first compromise for WannaCry", said Budiman Tsjin of RSA Security, a part of Dell.

Shortly after registering the domain, MalwareTech discovered that "our registration of the domain had actually stopped the ransomware and prevent the spread".

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While it is deeply concerning that some 1,500 computers in the Health Service Executive are estimated to be running unsupported Windows XP software, it is perhaps not surprising that our underfunded health service should be in this position.

There are however a group of Windows users who remain vulnerable, who cannot even patch their PCs if they wanted to. Microsoft puts out periodic security patches to the software and sometimes, they apply to all versions of the operating systems. Furthermore, the risks of ransomware compound when organizations lose valuable data that has not been backed up and that can not be properly restored. And since Windows is far more popular in the world than Apple's OS X and macOS, hackers go after Microsoft's operating system.

"We must evolve three determiners for digital security: how we ensure software authenticity and integrity, how we assess risk in an increasingly interconnected network and how we disseminate software updates", Dr Krishnashree Achuthan, director at the Center for Cybersecurity Systems and Networks, Amrita University, told International Business Times, India.

Data Backups. Organizations should regularly back up important data. As a precaution, backups should be stored apart from your system, thereby insulating it from potential malware, and rendering it available for a system restoration when necessary. "In India, the use of outdated software is a big problem when it comes to be safe from these attacks", he said.

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