Monday, June 14, 2021

Return of ransomware

The vulnerability of the global networks was exposed when computer systems across 150 countries were hit by a virulent cyber attack, crippling the businesses and raising fears over new forms of threats from cyber criminals. The WannaCry ransomware is a computer malware that uses a security flaw in Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system to lock the access to user files. The virus gets into a computer or server and encrypts files, making them inaccessible. The attackers then post a message on the screen demanding ransom for the key to unlock the data. The impact of the latest wave of cyber attack has been massive and widespread, paralysing computer networks in banks, hospitals, transport systems, schools, government services and private businesses. The disruptions spread across the continents as Microsoft released software patches to fix the ransomware vulnerability. Though cybersecurity firms worked round the clock to install the software patch, new variants of the rapidly replicating malware were discovered. Experts have advised the organisations to immediately update older Microsoft operating systems to limit their vulnerability. The impact on India appears limited and manageable. This is because a major chunk of medium and small size companies still use pirated and outdated software and will not be able to report losses due to licensing issues. According to a Business Software Alliance survey in 2015, about 59% of Indians use pirated software.

The Central government has sought to assure that there has been no serious impact of the ransomeware attack. All the systems being handled by the National Informatics Centre are secure and running smoothly. However, cybersecurity experts estimate that at least 45,000 computer systems in India, relating to banking, insurance, manufacturing, retail and BPO services, could have fallen prey to the cyber attack. However, the digital payment systems are not affected by the malware as the RBI and UIDAI have taken necessary precautions to secure their systems. The RBI has asked all the banks to operate their old generation ATMs only after updating software systems to avoid being infected by the virus. There are over 2.2 lakh ATMs in the country. Many of them run on Windows XP, for which Microsoft has officially ended support in 2014. However, after the spread of the malicious software, the company released a security patch for Windows XP systems fixing the loophole. It is still not clear which group is behind the devastating attack. While some experts suspected a North Korean link, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pointed the finger at America, saying the initial source of the virus is the intelligence services of the United States. The ransomware exploited a hacking tool built by the US National Security Agency.

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