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UK's National Health Service hit by "ransomware" attack

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

17 May 2017

On Friday, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was hit by a cyberattack that ground healthcare services across the country to a halt and hit 200,000 targets across 150 countries worldwide.

The Wanna Decryptor 2.0 ransomware attacked hospital systems up and down the country by locking files and demanding $300 per machine for access. The ransom was to be paid in Bitcoin.

Patients’ files become unavailable, some services were rendered impossible, and the NHS put out a message asking for people with non-life-threatening issues to refrain from coming to hospital unless absolutely necessary.

But the NHS weren’t the only major organization hit by the attack. Fedex, German Raileys and the Russian Interior Ministry were also affected.

What is “ransomware”?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that locks or encrypts systems or files and demands payment in return for access to the locked data. Some types of ransomware may even encrypt an entire hard drive. The technical name for this type of attack is a cryptoviral extortion attack (don’t worry, there won’t be a test).

This type of attack can occur on any type of computer, not just across a high profile network; they have and do often occur on personal and home computers too. Most ransomware software finds its way onto your computer by posing as a legitimate software

How can you protect yourself against ransomware attacks?

It’s suspected that the NHS was susceptible to the attack due to outdated software. It’s reported that hospitals were still running Windows XP. Windows stopped providing security updates for XP in 2014, and though the British government is thought to have paid for extended security support afterwards, this had not been renewed, and so NHS computers had not received security updates that would have prevented the attack.

To keep your devices safe from this type of attack, its essential to install security updates from your OS provider, and to install the latest version of your OS when available.

Ransomware is often downloaded when disguised as something else, so be wary of any apps that don’t come from official stores, and never download software from email links.

Most importantly of all, back your files up reguarly to a separate device, preferably an external hard drive that isn’t connected to the web. As well as saving your files in the event of a computer failure, it will also save them in the event of a ransomware attack.

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