“Gentlemen! You shall always remember this as the day that you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!”
With these words, Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean reminds us that pirates are not easy to catch. Digital pirates are no different. The latest digital pirate, a form of virus called ransomware, has caught the world’s three billion internet users with their virtual doors unlocked.
In the age of the Internet of Things (IOT) – from smart home entertainment systems to Google glasses and Apple watches – sales of antivirus and security software to protect against cyber fraud are soaring. Despite the extra vigilance, digital pirates held individual, corporate and government IT systems worldwide hostage in May through ransomware called WannaCry. A wiley virus, ransomware locks data and computer systems and then extorts a fee from the owners to regain access. The hacker demanded $300 in Bitcoin currency to decrypt data it had encrypted.
Like real world pirates, the culprit behind the cyber attacks has yet to be caught. Occasionally, the media exposes a bored computer genius, mischievous teenager or more often a thief with some computer smarts behind cyber frauds. The suggestion that state-sponsored forces are behind the WannaCry attacks on the digital life of people in 180 countries has heightened online security concerns.
The following cyber attack defenses can protect you from a digital hostage taking.
- Upgrade to the most current operating system – WannaCry virtually broke into global IT systems through an open door in Windows XP systems, an OS that has not been updated by Microsoft since 2014. Although the UK Hospital system, the NHS, sent out a ransomware patch a month before the virus hit, the old OS could not run it.
- Automatically run upgrades – Set your computer to automatically update with the most recent software and security patches. WannaCry spread to 180 countries in seconds. You will leave your computer highly vulnerable to an attack if you wait and manually upgrade after a virus has hit.
- Install a reputable antivirus program on your smart phone – Do not trust your data to the many unproven antivirus apps available on mobile operating systems. Some of them will actually infect your mobile phone and then try and sell you their antivirus solutions. Secure your online banking, robo-advisors and other mobile data with proven security software.
- Do not follow links from unknown sources – If you have email, you have no doubt encountered an attempt to access your personal information through a phishing scheme. Hackers entice users to click on a link to reveal personal information. The link may lead to a false bank or other personal account where they are asked to fill in forms with personal data, or release spyware to track user activity, including keystrokes.
- Close any vulnerabilities in your network – You do not go on holiday and leave your house open for a thief to walk in; do not leave your data readily accessible to online theft. Avoid open Wi-Fi hotspots, close Bluetooth connections when not in use, log out of email and other accounts that are not being used, and password protect your devices.
WannaCry exposed how forms of cyber crime – now the leading financial crime in many countries – are evolving faster than security software can implement defenses. Days after the WannaCry outbreak, a new form of digital piracy appeared – the attempted extortion of ransom from Disney in exchange for not pre-releasing stolen digital copies of the new Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Fortunately, today, it is much easier to bury your treasure. Ensure you regularly back up your data and save it to a separate device. If the digital pirates do get a hold of your data, you will have a secure back up copy hidden away.