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St. Maarten police have cyber attacks on radar

20 May 2017

PHILIPSBURG–The Police Force of St. Maarten (KPSM) has been handling different forms of complaints of cybercrime over the years. In the wake of the recent global threats by ransomware viruses, KPSM has embarked on an initiative to raise awareness of the growing ransomware and other cybercrime problem.

Recently, a global cyber attack (Wannacry) in the form of ransomware has affected more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries. Organisations affected include hospitals, railway systems, etc. This ransomware is being described as the most dangerous and damaging attack in cyber-attack history.

Why different?

What makes this attack different from others is the ransomware’s ability to spread on its own without any human input. Previous ransomware of its type depended on human input to spread throughout the network, but this new variant combined this capability with the “computer worm” capability to replicate itself to infect other computers.

Once infected, the virus will encrypt targeted files, making them useless. It then displays a message on the computer screen demanding a ransom to get the files back. The police warn that there is no guarantee that by paying the ransom, the files would be restored. Contacting the cybercriminals can also make the victim a future target, as they may now have the victim’s information.

False safety

There is often a false perception that because a device is listed as not affected by a specific type of virus that such a device is safe to use. Note that a mobile phone, for example, can also act as a carrier of any virus even if it is not affected by that particular virus. This means that the virus can be copied to a Smartphone and lie dormant until the Smartphone is connected to a vulnerable device like a laptop or computer which can then be infected.

Another false perception for the WannaCry ransomware is that there is now a kill switch that saved the world from the virus. Although it is true that a turn of switch has been discovered in the code of the virus, this only slows down the problem, but does not stop it.

The kill switch works by stopping the virus from activating if the infected computer has access to the Internet and connects to a particular domain. However, if that computer loses access to the Internet it can no longer connect to the domain and the virus then proceeds to infect the computer.

Avoid being affected

The best way to avoid being affected by any ransomware or virus is by always being aware of the threats and taking immediate actions to secure your systems.

This virus is so dangerous that Microsoft has released updates for even outdated operating systems. Below are a few examples of actions that can be taken to secure a personal or company network from cyber attacks.

Safe browsing habits: Be careful when clicking on suspicious links on websites and in e-mails. A method known as phishing tricks users into clicking on links or attachments in e-mails or on websites. Never click or open unsolicited links or attachments without verifying this with the sender first. Also be aware of those tempting flashing and links on websites. These links are sometimes created in such a way that you are tempted into clicking on them.

Always keep your computer up to date by enabling the automatic download feature in Windows to download the latest updates. Microsoft has also rolled out updates for unsupported operating systems like XP and Server 2003. These systems also must be updated.

Employers of private and government-owned companies should always stay aware of threats, take action to protect their networks and maintain awareness throughout their organisations by always informing their employees of new cyber attacks.

These examples are especially crucial for critical organisations and infrastructures such as medical centres, telephone and Internet providers, power distribution companies and the aviation industry.

It is also important to instruct employees on how they can help to avoid these threats. It is also very important that a proper back-up plan be put in place so that you can recover your data if you are a victim of a cyber attack.

Even though most WannaCry attacks happened outside of the Caribbean, everyone is at risk of being attacked at any given time. The Police Force of St. Maarten therefore encourages the community to remain alert and to take immediate action to protect yourself against cybercriminals, police said in a statement on Friday.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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