What’s Behind the Worldwide Cyberattack?

Jackson Lewis, Associate Editor

web security

CHICAGO -- The world witnessed a series of ransomware computer attacks on May 12 that one NATO official described to the Wall Street Journal as one of “unprecedented scale and synchronization.”

More than 200,000 victims across 150 countries were affected, ranging from England’s National Health Service to the Nissan Motor Co.

Convenience-store operators should be prepared for cyberattack attempts, but there’s no reason to panic given the recent news.

Here is more information on what this recent cyberattack was, how it happened and what businesses can do to keep their systems safe from digital harm …

WannaCry about it?

wanna cry 2.0

The cyberattack perpetrators—still unknown at this point—used a tool dubbed WannaCry that they allegedly stole from the U.S. National Security Agency, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. The tool was designed to exploit flaws in Microsoft Windows systems and infect computers with malware.

The malware is specifically categorized as ransomware because the program encrypts the victim’s files, rendering them useless, and then demands money in the form of bitcoin to fix the problem, effectively holding the computer’s ability to function under ransom. A few victims have paid the WannaCry ransom, but the British government and many cybersecurity experts have advised victims not to do so.

Windows of opportunity

Microsoft office sign

WannaCry used vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows to force computers to run the ransomware code and replicated itself to spread through the networks to which the victim computers were connected.

Microsoft released a patch on May 14 aimed at closing the vulnerability exploited by WannaCry to infect computers and spread through their systems. Microsoft also added new upgrades May 12 to protect users from malware attacks.

Anyone running Microsoft’s antivirus software with Windows updates enabled is protected, and the company is assisting victims, according to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Be safe out there

browsing safety

China’s state media reported that many Chinese gas stations were hit with the WannaCry malware, but North American c-stores seem to have largely escaped unscathed. Even so, it’s important to be vigilant about computer security.

Protecting computers and systems from ransomware attacks like WannaCry starts with staying current with software updates for all programs. The next step is a simple matter of playing it safe online.

  • Try to avoid unprofessional, iffy-looking websites.
  • Hover the cursor over links before clicking them to see where they go.
  • As a rule, it’s better to open a browser and go to the website in question manually instead of clicking a link to get there.
  • Never hit the “reply” button to an email with a suspicious link or attachment.
  • If an employee receives a fishy email from someone they know, have them draft a new email message and ask the sender if they sent the email in question. If the employee does not know the sender, he or she should delete the email immediately.

PCs running Windows XP are particularly susceptible to this brand of ransomware, but those running the most recent version of Windows XP with the appropriate security patches should be safe. It’s also important to regularly create backups of most important files in an external hard drive or cloud-based storage service. This way, victims can still access important files if they are victim to a ransomware attack.