Millions of people are left clueless after taking the bait offered by a group of cyber criminals. If you think the targets of ransomware attacks were limited to big corporations, banks and rich people, you are wrong. Individual computer users and small-time merchants have also fallen prey to this latest attack. The cyber thieves can destroy any information or file stored on your computer. Details of your bank account and tax records, passwords, wedding photos and videos could be lost to the viruses on the rampage.
The WannaCry ransomware affects your computer through emails which offer you Rs 1 crore in a lottery, a laptop for Re 1 or free medical insurance among other things. These shady mails will have a file attached to it. If you open it, you give WannaCry free access to your files. This virus will encrypt the files on your computer within seconds.
WannaCry uses an application to encrypt information. A password is required to retrieve your own data. The cyber thieves will ask you $300 to $600 for the password. They collect the money as bitcoins, the new digital currency. Worst of all, there is no guarantee that the files will be decrypted even if you pay up.
You have to disconnect your computer from the Internet the moment you realize that the WannaCry virus has been activated. The virus could get into any connected computer. You might have to format the computer, making the machine blank as day one.
We are responsible for keeping the doors open for the bandits. The criminals have made use of a loophole in Microsoft Windows. Anyone could hack into a computer through printer-related software. Microsoft had realized the weak spot in February itself. The company upgraded Windows on March 14. We could download the upgrade free of cost but most of us did not bother. Such computers were targeted in the WannaCry attack. Mobile phones were relatively safe because they run on Windows 10.
Most people do not buy authentic software when they buy a computer. Genuine Windows software costs about Rs 8,000. A computer would cost about Rs 1 lakh including genuine software.
Since most of the buyers do not want to spend so much, sellers give them pirated versions of software. Such software cannot be updated because the company would block any such attempt.
Unsafe computers definitely need antivirus software for protection. Antivirus software can be downloaded free of cost but they can offer only up to 50 percent of protection. If you need total protection, you should buy quality brands of antivirus software. A personal computer can be secured by spending about Rs 1,500 a year. The antivirus software can resist a virus attack.
The terror of the virus will visit us again. Be prepared for it. Urgently transfer all data on your computer to an external hard drive, pen drive or CDs. A 1 TB hard disk is available for Rs 3,000. Or you could switch to the cloud, the digital equivalent of a bank locker. Companies such as Google offer cloud facilities without any charge.
(The writer is the coordinator of R&D in the Kerala Police Cyber Dome)