In the af­ter­math of the Wanna Cry at­tack, we are re­minded once again that tech­nol­ogy is al­ways a dou­ble-edged sword

New Straits Times - - Opinion - kushairi@me­di­aprima.com.my The writer is ed­i­tor of BOTs, the weekly tech sec­tion in Life&Times. Trained in Maths, he has since traded his prob­lem-solv­ing skills with writ­ing about how tech has helped to trans­form the world for the bet­ter

Though we now think we are pro­tected by fin­ger­print read­ers, these are also prone to cy­ber­at­tacks.

THE re­cent Wan­naCry ran­somware at­tack left the world in a fran­tic mode. The world­wide mas­sive cy­ber­at­tack on com­put­ers run­ning Mi­crosoft Win­dows op­er­at­ing sys­tem re­port­edly struck more than 200,000 com­put­ers in 150 coun­tries. Rus­sia and the United King­dom were said to be among the worst-hit.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity firm ex­perts are warn­ing that it can only get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter be­cause so­ci­ety has be­come more reliant on tech­nol­ogy than ever be­fore.

Ran­somware is a ma­li­cious soft­ware that locks up vic­tims’ data in elec­tronic gad­gets such as com­put­ers, tablets or smart­phones and threat­ens to ex­pose the data or delete it un­til a ran­som is paid. It is ba­si­cally a de­nial-of-ac­cess cy­ber­at­tack that prevents us from ac­cess­ing our data.

While there are many forms of ran­somware out there, Wanna Cry is per­haps the most danger­ous yet. Sys­tem an­a­lysts traced the root of the ran­somware to a Mi­crosoft se­cu­rity patch re­leased in March, so those who had up­dated their sys­tems with the patch were more likely to be vic­tims of Wanna Cry. How­ever, it doesn’t stop there be­cause many are still at risk and it’s only a mat­ter of time for Wanna Cry to spread through the email chain.

To­day, it seems that the world is no longer safe any­where. Real world or vir­tual, we are just as vul­ner­a­ble when it comes to safety. Tech­nol­ogy has opened up an in­fini­tude Catch-22 sit­u­a­tion that we are un­able to re­solve. We need tech­nol­ogy and we def­i­nitely can­not live with­out it but at what cost?

We are in­deed held ran­som by tech­nol­ogy as we con­tinue to be­come more de­pen­dent on it. With the In­ter­net of Things (IoT), the re­liance on tech­nol­ogy can only in­crease in the fu­ture. We live and breathe tech­nol­ogy ev­ery sec­ond of the day. Even when we sleep, tech­nol­ogy in IoT dom­i­nates our time. IoT, the next stage of evo­lu­tion in con­sumer prod­ucts, is con­nect­ed­ness. It af­fects ev­ery item, from the tooth­brush to the fridge, and the tele­vi­sion to the cam­era that uses wire­less pro­to­cols to con­nect.

Though we now think we are pro­tected by fin­ger­print read­ers, these are also prone to cy­ber­at­tacks. If you think your fin­ger­print is unique, think again. Master­prints, dig­i­tally al­tered fin­ger­prints that work like a mas­ter key, have been dis­cov­ered by re­searchers for New York Univer­sity’s Tan­don School of En­gi­neer­ing. With these master­prints, one can un­lock up to 40 per cent of smart­phones.

Ran­somware is not the only nasty bug on the list. We have ex­pe­ri­enced tro­jans, mal­wares, worms and more in var­i­ous stages over the years, all cre­ated by hack­ers. As tech­nol­ogy evolves, so do these bugs. While we think that these mostly tar­get gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions, think again be­cause any one of us is just as sus­cep­ti­ble to hack­ers. De­pend­ing on the in­ten­tions of hack­ers, some may not even want any­thing in re­turn... just the sat­is­fac­tion of cre­at­ing dis­rup­tion or chaos in peo­ple’s lives.

If you are in­fected by ran­somware or mal­ware, the first thing you should do is dis­con­nect your com­puter from the In­ter­net so it does not in­fect oth­ers. Most of these at­tacks rely on your con­nec­tion to spread, so dis­con­nect to end it be­fore it goes vi­ral. Re­port the crime to law en­force­ment or cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­perts. Even if you pay the hack­ers, there’s no guar­an­tee they will un­lock or re­store your ac­cess to your data.

Ran­somware is very real and the only way to counter it is to unite, be aware and take pre­cau­tion­ary steps to avoid it. Though we can never be re­ally safe from those who mis­use tech­nol­ogy for their own gain, we need to ac­cept that tech­nol­ogy is here to stay. What we can do in the mean­time is to take the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions ad­vised by sys­tem ex­perts and be alert at all times. Let’s be safe rather than be sorry!


A screen­shot of a Wan­naCry ran­somware de­mand. It struck more than 200,000 com­put­ers in 150 coun­tries.

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