Cyber-attacks continue to evolve as they become an increasing concern for computer systems across the world. Throughout 2016, almost half of UK businesses were targeted by cyber criminals, and the average business ended up paying out around £1,570 in total, while for larger firms the figure neared £20,000.
The need for thorough protection against these attacks was highlighted when the ‘WannaCry’ ransomware infected computer systems around the globe, grinding businesses to a halt, including Britain’s National Health Service.
The Ransomware locked user’s files and demanded a Bitcoin payment of $300 (£270). Failure to pay would result in the loss of files, although there was no guarantee they’d be unlocked if the ransom was paid. Seven hospitals around the UK were unable to accept emergency patients after the cyber-attack brought down dozens of NHS systems.
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware has been around since 2005 and is best described as malicious software which targets computers, tablets and smartphones. Once infected, the software locks down the device and demands a ransom to unlock it. Usually the infectious software is received via an attachment in an email that seems innocent, but houses something far more sinister.
While anti-virus software is one of the best ways to protect your devices, cyber-criminals are always looking for new ways to work around this protection. Vigilance is one of your best defences, as you should always be hazardous when opening attachments from unknown sources. Further, if you’re not sure about the legitimacy of an email it’s usually best to avoid it.
With ransomware and other cyber-attacks becoming an increasing risk around the world, there’s a growing interest into Bitcoin as it appears to be the preferred currency of hackers. However, while those well-versed in online services may know the ins-and-outs of this online currency, many don’t know where to start.
What is Bitcoin?
Simply put, Bitcoin is a completely digital currency that is independent from any banks or governments. The currency is currently worth more than gold.
Bitcoin is the preferred method of payment among libertarian crowds and tech enthusiasts and it’s also favoured throughout the Dark Web and with hackers. This is because transactions can be anonymised. Though every transactional bitcoin has a traceable history, due to a lack of data on users there’s no way to identify the recipient, hence anonymity.
Using Bitcoin is as simple as creating a virtual wallet, and coupled with how easy it is for cybercriminals to create and distribute ransomware, hackers can easily make a profit through the service. Once they have the Bitcoins, it’s simply a matter of ‘washing’ them via the Dark Web (a process which removes all traces of previous ownership and transactions) and the hackers can then convert the coins to cash.
Bitcoin as a currency is becoming increasingly popular throughout the world with the BBC reporting that around 6 million people have online Bitcoin wallets. The number of retailers who accept Bitcoins as payment is continuing to grow as users buy everything from tickets to groceries with this thriving internet currency.
While incidents like this may give this digital economy a terrible reputation, a majority of it is actually clean and is not intended for criminal use. Bitcoin has always had the potential to revolutionise how we shop, however it’s associations with the dark web and criminal activity have only served to mar its progress into the mainstream.
We asked our Technology Infrastructure Specialist, Oliver Baker, what his thoughts are around cyber security roles in relation to the latest NHS security attack:
“All companies need to invest further into the weakest element of security – that being human error.
A lot of scams target human naivety, with phishing and social engineering attacks taking place within businesses. Further investment in education about network security, combined with hiring the right personnel to protect systems when there is an issue will prevent further attacks like this from happening.”
Looking for a cyber security role? Email firstname.lastname@example.org today.