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'Ransomware' attacks
The malware attack this weekend must hasten moves towards on cyber threats and cyber security across the globe
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The series of cyber-attacks beginning on Friday last of the malicious software WannaCry, which has infected thousands of computer systems in 150 countries, is a frightening reminder of the vulnerabilities of a connected world. This is also a grim reminder of the cyber-security across the globe in these days when many parts of life have become dependent on the telecommunications and the computer system in the world. It is heartening to note that many medical facilities in the healthcare network had to be suspended when the computer system went haywire and refused to show the data records of the patients for upgrade. Moreover, there are many facilities which are now connected with the computers and operate on their own or through remote control system and had to be shutdown for the fear of damage to the computers and the records stored therein. The cyber-attackers, who have unleashed it time and again in the past also, as yet unknown, have essentially used chinks in Microsoft's outdated software and operating systems to remotely gain access to computers of unsuspecting users so as to lock them out of their files. These attacks have been in the nature of what are called 'ransomware,' wherein attackers demand a ransom mostly in Bitcoins, which are tougher to trace than regular currency, to decrypt the files they have force-encrypted. Cyber risk modelling firm Cyence estimates the economic damage to be around $4 billion, a figure that may not seem daunting for a global-scale disruption such as this one. Spread of such attacks has exposed the lack of preparedness among the government and private institutions across many countries. The list of unsuspecting users who fell prey to the malware includes the UK's National Health Service, German transport company, Deutsche Bahn, courier delivery services company FedEx and carmaker Renault besides many others who cannot be identified for security reasons. It was only few weeks earlier Microsoft had made available a patch to remove the chinks, something that raises doubts over whether even large institutions are complacent on cyber risks. The governments across the world sounded as alert after the outbreak of the global 'epidemic' is some consolation. It is also a fact that Indian institutions have largely went unscathed by the malware until now. But estimates are yet to be made about the impact on Indian companies as well as the government institutions. Things, however, could have been worse had a British researcher not registered a domain name hidden in the malware, thereby accidentally stopping its spread as also its momentum.

Sight cannot be lost of the fact that the state of preparedness has been a cause for worry, the likely origin of WannaCry forces stakeholders to revisit a long-standing and uneasy question regarding the actions of the governments. The malware owes its origins to a tool developed by the National Security Agency in the US that was dumped online by a group called the Shadow Brokers, who have remained unidentified till date. In fact, the experts in this field particularly the companies that provide the operating system for the computers have not been able to track the computers which were used for breaking into the computers across the world without being noticed. A few days after the malware started spreading, Microsoft officers, wrote on the blog that the governments should treat it as 'a wake-up call' and 'consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities'. The point to governments is this: report vulnerabilities to vendors rather than exploit them for their own designs. The US assesses the balance between cyber-security and national interest through what is called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, wherein a review board makes a final decision on whether a 'vulnerability' needs to be reported or retained without giving any explanation. US President Donald Trump's views on this process are not clear and no attempt has been made to forward an explanation to the people affected by such cyber-attacks. With the passage of time, such cyber threats are only likely to grow, and the world needs to push for global rules on such issues. It is more than obvious now that cyber vulnerabilities have massive global implications and have the potential to disrupt the normal life of citizens. In fact, an initiative need to be taken by the developed countries on cooperative basis for ensuring that such attacks do not hit the common citizens across the world.

News Updated at : Thursday, May 18, 2017
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