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More cyber-attacks coming, Minister Wheatley warns

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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THE technology ministry has warned Jamaicans to secure their computer systems as attacks similar to that of ransomware WannaCry which crippled a raft of health, financial and other systems on the weekend, “will escalate in coming weeks”.In a release to the media yesterday, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley cautioned against taking for granted media reports that the malicious software has stopped.

“We have information that indicates that attacks of this nature will escalate in coming weeks,” he said.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that carries out an extortion attack on computer files by blocking access to data until a “ransom” is paid. If users do not pay in time, they are threatened with the deletion of their files. The ransomware is usually spread through various means, including e-mail attachments or malicious links within an e-mail.

The WannaCry attack was launched on Friday and infected computers running unsecured versions of Microsoft Windows. Britain's National Health Service cancelled surgeries as a result, and a wide array of private and public institutions in Russia, China and at least 90 countries were compromised, according to international news reports.

Yesterday, Wheatley described WannaCry, also called WannaCrypt, as one, if not the largest attack of its type in recent history.

“It is clear from the number of global cyber-attacks over the past two or three years, that the world is now entering a new kind of battlefield where a new type of warfare prevails, that of electronic warfare where the weapons are not bombs or bullets but ones and zeros. Protection of information systems and electronic data has become more important than ever because cyber-attacks can now cripple economies. This is something we cannot afford to happen to our country,” Wheatley said, according to the release.

The ministry said its Cyber Incident Response Team (CIRT) has been monitoring the situation from its inception and has advised all government ministries, departments, and agencies on the practices that must be employed to protect against infection.

Head of CIRT Dr Moniphia Hewling told the Jamaica Observer in an interview yesterday that the response team has sent out several alerts informing staffers about the ransomware and the measures they can take.

She stated that one of the first recommended measures is for users to update their current version of Microsoft Windows, noting that while several versions of the system, such as Microsoft XP and Microsoft Vista, are no longer supported, Microsoft has provided security fixes.

“The main thing we tell people is to ensure their systems are patched and something that helps is having backup for your files,” Dr Hewling said.

She advised, too, that computer users take extreme caution with links and attachments sent in e-mails. This, she said, can include any Word, PDF, compressed or ZIP file attachments that may appear genuine but could instead be phishing e-mails, which are typically fraudulent.

She explained that a simple and quick way to verify the authenticity of the e-mail is to make a quick call to the person who allegedly sent it to clarify whether it was actually sent by them.

Further steps suggested by the technology ministry to mitigate cyber threats include: enabling strong spam filters to prevent phishing e-mails from reaching end users, and ensuring anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically conduct regular scans.

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