Expats fear losing data from global cyber attack

Published:  17 May at 6 PM
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Tagged: USA
Expats across the world are afraid they might lose files, photos and contact details of family and friends back home due to Friday’s devastating cyber attack.

For the first time ever, a massive cyber attack using malicious ransomware has spread across 150 countries and infected at least 300,000 computer systems, leaving expats who rely on the internet to stay in touch with family and friends back home fearing the loss of photos, texts and contact details. Expat businesses risk potentially even more harm, as records, tax forms and other essentials become locked by the virus.

As of late Monday, the projected widening of the cyber-crooks’ net seems to have been averted, mostly thanks to the immediate action of one British security researcher who identified a flaw on the ransomware’s rogue software and managed to switch it off, thus stopping its further spread. The 22 year-old cyber security expert, at present known only as MalwareTech, had taken a week’s rest from his research, but decided to investigate once the news of the global attack had broken.

During an interview with the BBC, the man said his discovery of the ‘kill switch’ had been almost accidental, adding he’d been working on the problem for most of the night. Although his discovery did nothing to recover the locked files, it stopped the spread of the malware to thousands more computers, resulting is his being described as an ‘accidental hero’ – a compliment with which he totally agreed, telling the BBC reported he’d jumped around in excitement when he realised he’d cracked the puzzle.

It seems the scammers who wrote the software and released it haven’t received untold riches, as the majority of those whose files were locked haven’t paid up as demanded. According to MalwareTech, this attack is almost certainly the first of many probably written without the vulnerable ‘kill switch’. Tech companies and anti-virus providers including Kaspersky are urging the public to make sure Microsoft’s security updates are regularly installed, a move which prevents ransomware of this type from harming their computers.

Expats living in first world countries should have no problem with ensuring they’re safe from ransomware attacks, but, for example, huge swathes of Southeast Asian businesses as well as residents either still use Windows XP or have illegal copies of Windows software installed, neither of which can receive security updates. Since the attack, Microsoft has released an update specially configured for the XP operating system in the hope that further attacks can be prevented.
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