How to avoid a WannaCry moment?


In what seems to be the biggest ransomware attack the world has seen, “WannaCry” affected 2,30,000 computers in over 150 countries including India. In a more recent development, we have seen “Nyetya”, a new avatar of the erstwhile “Petya” make another ransomware attack on an unsuspecting network in Ukraine and then spread to Russia, India and other countries.

Their modus operandi is devious. The malware freezes the computer resources and demands a transfer of funds to release them. For all we know, these thieves have no intention whatsoever of returning your data, even if you pay.

This brings security into the spotlight. With a growing number of internet users that include people who are not aware of the possibilities of hacking, malware and phishing, there is an urgent need to educate them.

So, here are a few basic pointers to keeping your PC secure:

Strengthen your passwords: Use strong passwords that are a combination of characters, numerals and special characters. Keep changing them, especially on your banking and finance accounts. Use a theme to make remembering your passwords easier.

Avoid suspicious downloads: Think twice before clicking on suspicious emails and downloading apps communicated by social media. Apps are the safest when downloaded from app stores. As for email links, watch out for content that lures by promising prize money or includes invoices for orders you have never placed.

Install anti-virus: Use a reliable anti-virus software that has proven its worth in the industry. Not using one is missing the forest for the woods. One cannot be too careful these days where we see cyber-thieves donning new avatars and coming up with extremely cunning methods of attack.

Stay up-to-date: Keep a tab on what’s happening in news. In the critical moment of WannaCry crippling systems world over, the Indian Government released a circular through the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) that is in-charge of cybersecurity issues. This applies to consumers as much as it applies to organisations.

Avoid storing vulnerable numbers: Do not store account numbers, passwords, PIN numbers, Aadhaar numbers anywhere on the PC. This information could be easily obtained from an unprotected PC and used in fraudulent activities.

Beware of what you share: In the mobile space, be doubly careful about who you share your passwords and account numbers with, as it is easy to overlook safety when messaging your friends or family. Do not take any space -including messaging spaces from popular apps like WhatsApp- for granted.

What’s the big picture?

According to global digital security firm Gemalto’s ‘Breach Level Index’, nearly 36.6 million data records were breached in India in 2016. Amongst them, alarmingly, identity theft and unauthorised access to financial data were the leading type of data breaches, accounting for 73 per cent of all data theft.

Often, one does not realise the presence of lurking cyber criminals until one has personally encountered a data breach. Gemalto’s report should be treated as a high alert by Indian consumers who are increasingly reliant on a digital ecosystem. Heed the words of IBM and the Ponemon Institute who say that with an increasing online presence coupled with low awareness of security measures, India stands as the most targeted country for data breaches in the world.