The IT security company Trend Micro declared 2016 “The Year of Online Extortion.” It’s likely they’re now calling 2017 “The Supersized Year of Online Extortion” following an alarming recent wave of ransomware attacks.
In the latest incident, which has gained headlines worldwide, more than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries have so far been infected. Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright summarized the current scale of the most recent attacks by saying, “We’ve seen the rise of ransomware becoming the principal threat, I think, but this is something we haven’t seen before—the global reach is unprecedented.”
In one of his most recent blogs, Microsoft Corp. president Brad Smith called the attacks a “wake-up call” for governments in the U.S. and abroad to change their approach to digital vulnerabilities. He urged them to “adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world.”
But while the governments of the world are working on their solutions, what can you be doing to up your own cyber protection?
One of the best steps is to upgrade your computer operating system. In fact, as a response to the recent attacks, Microsoft took the highly unusual step of providing a patch for older versions of Windows it was otherwise no longer supporting, including Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. As Smith noted, “As cybercriminals become more sophisticated, there is simply no way for customers to protect themselves against threats unless they update their systems. Otherwise they’re literally fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past. This attack is a powerful reminder that information technology basics like keeping computers current and patched are a high responsibility for everyone, and it’s something every top executive should support.”
Perhaps even more important is simple awareness of the threat. As our own Aaron Shields warned back in February 2016 in the MJ blog, Trolling for Data and Dollars, “the human propensity to trust eliminates far too many barriers between your company and the criminal.” Your trusting nature is exactly what data thieves are looking to exploit; be aware and don’t let them take advantage of you.