Operations were cancelled when NHS computers were hit by the attack © PA Wire
Operations were cancelled when NHS computers were hit by the attack © PA Wire

Global ransomware attack a ‘wake-up call’

15 May 2017

Buyers must lead the way in tackling cyber crime as businesses are warned to brace themselves for an escalation in the global ransomware attack. 

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said more than 200,000 victims in 150 countries had been identified as being affected by the “Wannacry” ransomware, which locks key computer files until a ransom is paid in bitcoin.

“It is important to understand that the way these attacks work means that compromises of machines and networks that have already occurred may not yet have been detected, and that existing infections from the malware can spread within networks,” it said.

The NCSC added that only one computer needed to be affected for it to spread across an organisation’s network and those using Windows XP were more vulnerable to malware than those using newer operating systems as it is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Andrew Coulcher, group director, membership and knowledge at CIPS, said there was an "urgent need for this to become the top priority for every procurement professional" because supply chains offered so many opportunities for hackers.

"Buyers must lead the way and understand all these issues so they can share information with suppliers and build strong relationships and agreement on what to do in the event of an attack," he said. "So they should look at the lifecyle of information assets, throughout the lifetime of the supplier relationship, prioritising investment and the level of risk for each tier."

Disaster modelling firm AIR Worldwide said it was believed the attack originated in Russia and around $50,000 had been paid out in ransom to the hackers.

In an update blog Microsoft president Brad Smith said the attack should be a wake up call to organisations and businesses to update their security.

“With hindsight, this incident stresses the importance of continual risk assessments of an organisation’s business operations; from fundamental patch management to wide issues that consider access,” he said.

“It re-enforces the significance of getting identity and access management right, as it was only a matter of time before an attack happened on this large of a scale to take advantage of those organisations who haven’t taken this critical step.”

The ransomware afflicted dozens of NHS trusts on Friday, leading to severe disruption. FedEx, the Russian Interior Ministry, German train operator Deutsche Bahn and Portugal Telecom were also affected.

Nissan Motor confirmed on Monday some units had been targeted, but there was no major impact on its business.

Mark Skilton, professor of practice in the Information Systems and Management Group at Warwick Business School said the attack showed that there needed to be better policing of the internet.

“This attack shows there need to be a cyber police force at a global level to help manage these escalating threats with the right level of specialist skills, and not just vendors sorting it out for themselves,” he said.

“The current threats mean that general users and companies can not protect themselves and just doing perimeter security does not work as this ransomware has shown. Plus it can get through networks as a ‘worm’ technology.” 

Meanwhile, Chinese state media said more than 29,000 institutions across the country had been infected.

Xinhua New Agency reported that by Sunday evening, 29,372 institutions had been affected along with hundreds of thousands of devices.

University and educational insitutions were among the hardest hit, numbering 4,341 or about 15% of internet protocol addresses. Railway stations mail delivery, gas stations, hospitals, office buildings, shopping malls and government services were also victims of the attack.

However, Australia appeared to have escaped largely unscathed, according to the Telegraph.

Australian cyber security minister Dan Tehan said that even though the bug had hit just three businesses, small businesses should update their cyber security immediately.

“Small businesses owners should be proactive about their cyber security in the wake of this ransomware campaign affecting computers around the world,” he said.

“This attack is a wake-up call to businesses to regularly back up their data and install the latest security patches.”

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