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Cybersecurity experts are clamoring to contain the massive global ransomware attack that infected several hundred thousand computers over the weekend in more than 150 countries. While the attacks have mainly struck large businesses, should the smaller home user be concerned?
The attack that began on Friday — known as WannaCry — is believed to be the largest cyber exploitation attack recorded. It was responsible for crippling Britain’s hospital network and Germany’s railway, along with other governments and infrastructures worldwide. And oddly, Russia seems to be the worst hit of all affected countries.
But renowned cybersecurity expert Dr. Diana Burley credits — in part — the rise of cyberattacks in recent years and the expanse of the weekend’s global attack in the failure of the average computer user to take preventative measures to avoid such an attack.
“Even in this case, we don’t know all of the details. But what we do know is the malware attacked the vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that Microsoft had released a patch to fix several months ago,” Burley, a professor of human and organizational learning at George Washington University has stated. “For those systems that were updated and patched, they were not vulnerable to this particular attack.”
Microsoft also allowed a rare fix for users who still used older Windows software — even though those operating systems had been previously “retired” in an effort to slow the spread through older computers.
“We don’t want to be alarmists because if you tell people that the sky is falling every day, pretty soon they won’t believe it when the sky actually does start to fall. At the same time, there needs to be a level of conversation that says, ‘You need to pay real attention to this, and there is a role for you as an average citizen for you to play in securing the systems,’” Burley said. “This is the kind of thing you need to think about and be aware of.”
Microsoft actually came up with a patch in March. Many people installed the patches and others did not, and that was the main problem. Computer users who do not take the time to update their software or systems become an active factor to the widespread nature of a ransomware attack like this.
Additionally, Upadhyaya stressed the importance of educating the average computer user through workshops and events as well as online tutorials. He also implored vendors to develop user-friendly technical resolutions.
“When you buy a computer and it does most of the work for you, that’s probably the best solution,” he said. “If you leave it to the people, then you have to depend on them. That’s where the problem is — usability versus security.”
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