Remember WannaCry? Who doesn’t?

In May 2017, WannaCry ransomware roamed the globe locking nearly 200,000 computers in various companies in 150 countries, holding important information for ransom . A notice appeared on users’ screens demanding payment in cryptocurrency for the return of their data . Information there is no guarantee they’ll get back, even if companies pay.

Cyberattacks like WannaCry are on the rise as hackers continue to refine their tools and find new targets, according to Barbara Ciaramitaro, PhD, CISSP, CSSLP, Chair of the Undergraduate Information Technology Program, Capella University School of Technology. More businesses, organizations, and individuals face threats to their business data.

WannaCry hackers used a tool developed by the National Security Agency called EternalBlue to exploit vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows XP . In this instance, a 22-year-old researcher known only as MalwareTech noticed a suspicious unregistered URL in WannaCry’s code. He registered the domain, initially for the purpose of monitoring the spread, and accidentally stopped the malware in its tracks. His quick thinking effectively killed the threat for the moment, but don’t look for ransomware to back off in 2018. The payday is too big.

 

Protect your systems

Ciaramitaro says, “Wannacry took advantage of organizations that did not update their existing Windows systems with a critical patch.” Had they done so, they could have avoided the breach. The best offense in this instance is defense— ensuring that your systems are updated with the most recent software and patches is the most effective way to thwart an attack such as WannaCry. Install backup systems to reduce vulnerability; however, hackers have also been known to get into backup systems. Companies that aren’t storing information in the Cloud need to back up with a system not connected to individual computers.

Updating security systems that detect ransomware and other malware to block cyberattacks can also be an effective deterrent. Although WannaCry focused on larger institutions, Ciaramitaro says, “Small companies and individuals are vulnerable, also. But the way to stop the attack is the same as for larger organizations.” Focus on ensuring that systems are patched and up-to-date, don’t open emails or files from unknown entities, and back up your system in case it’s infected by malware.

 

Communicate, execute, disseminate

But maybe more important is having a company-cohesive definition of cybersecurity and solid business initiatives to sustain it. Present iron-clad standard procedures for all tech employees to follow. “Wannacry demonstrates the need for organizations to focus on security,” says Ciaramitaro. “Basic security hygiene is essential. While that attack demonstrates the need, more than likely we will see variants of it in the future along with other types of malware.” Be proactive and review cybersecurity annually as business needs change, and disseminate commonsense approaches to handling email, links, and attachments to all employees regularly.