Editorials

Lessons from the global cyberattack: Update software, be nice to the IT guy

Patients wait near a sign informing about delays caused by a global ransomware attack that struck Dharmais Cancer Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday.
Patients wait near a sign informing about delays caused by a global ransomware attack that struck Dharmais Cancer Hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday. Associated Press

The worldwide cyberattack should reinforce a couple of crucial truths in the digital age.

Number one: Don’t ignore those messages about software updates.

It’s up to all of us to keep our own computers and smartphones safe from malware because when we don’t, we can inadvertently spread the virus to many others. We all should know by now not to click on suspicious links sent by random people.

Companies must communicate with employees and customers to keep their computer networks protected, and must pay attention and money to cybersecurity. Those that try to do it on the cheap will likely pay more in the long run, while putting others at risk.

Number two: Be nice to the IT guy.

Experts are crediting a 22-year-old British researcher and a cybersecurity expert in Michigan for helping slow the attack by finding the hackers’ “kill switch” that disabled the ransomware.

In many offices, information technology workers don’t get the respect they deserve, at least until we need them to make an urgent fix.

The pleas for help went out to IT departments around the world on Friday. The hackers exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft systems – uncovered and developed by the National Security Agency, then leaked online last month – to take control of computers and hold data for ransom.

While it is the highest profile case, ransomware attacks in the U.S. increased four-fold between 2015 and 2016 and payments to hackers rose to $1 billion, the FBI says.

The assault has struck 300,000 computers and counting in more than 100 nations, including at FedEx in the U.S., Telfonica in Spain, the national railroad in Germany, the interior ministry in Russia and the national health service in Britain, which had to postpone surgeries and turn away patients.

Monday, as the workweek began, the assault spread more slowly, mostly in Asia, and the feared sweeping second wave of copycat attacks hadn’t happened. Security firms are reportedly looking into clues suggesting that hackers linked to North Korea might be responsible.

At the White House, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert said that no federal computer networks had been infected, and that the attack should be an “urgent call for collective action.”

This cyberattack was bad enough, and it certainly won’t be the last. Computer users around the globe need to heed the warning.

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