16 May, 2017
From WhatsApp to primetime news, all our sources of information have been alive with news about the WannaCry malware attack that is spreading all over the world. What is this attack and how does it impact us? Let’s take a look at some important things you should know.
Nicknamed WannaCry, a virus has been sent out into the online world a few days ago. Such a computer virus is known as a worm because it multiplies and is shared with contacts every time a person clicks on the ‘bad’ link or downloads a related file. Once on your system, it locks your hard drive and asks you to pay a fee to access it again. Often, this fee is exorbitant, and if your hard drive is locked, your files and folders are locked permanently. This is basically a file released into the world wide network of computers with malicious intent, hoping to do harm and make money in the process.
So far, some public health systems and government websites around the world have been attacked by the recent WannaCry attack. One important thing to know about this attack is that this version only affects Microsoft systems as they exploit a loophole in the software. So if you run any other operating system like Apple's Mac OS or Android, there is no reason to panic.
Antivirus providers and Microsoft are working overtime to release software updates in order to counter this attack. If your system is registered with Microsoft, and it prompts you to update, do it. Also, for the next few days, do not open any emails or messages with attachments in it. Even if you receive such a mail from a friend, be sure to call and ask them if they have sent such a mail. Also, beware of files with a .exe extension that you receive in emails as these can be dangerous.
WhatsApp rumours are doing the rounds that banks and ATMs are being targeted. The Reserve Bank of India has indeed asked all banks to update and install the security features on all existing ATMs. However, ATMs are programmed to use only basic features, such as understand numbers and dispense cash. In an ATM, any other action such as communicating, or trying to send messages, is blacklisted and will not be performed, hence they may already be immune to this virus.
At least 80% of Indian ATMs operate on Windows XP and uses a firmware that limits the machine’s activities to bare basics such as dispensing cash on request and checking the account balance. Other activities are blacklisted, preventing a ransomware from attacking an ATM.
Until we know more, we can continue to use ATMs to draw cash as usual. As we speak, the security patch is being deployed by banks to their ATMs remotely. As for ecommerce transactions, they are protected by an SSL code in your web browser. In any case, continue to buy only from highly trusted sources.
So remember, as a good practice now and always, avoid links and attachments in email and WhatsApp that are from unknown sources or in unknown formats.
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