Years ago, at a government sponsored conference, I had an interesting discussion with some people about who were concerned about viruses, specifically pandemic viruses. These are viruses like the Spanish Flu. It infected a third of the world’s population and killed as much as 6%. In 1918 and 1919, 6% equaled about 50 million people dying as a direct result of the flu. Today that would be 450 million people. What really concerned these scientists, doctors, and city planners were viruses engineered by state or non-state actors (read terrorists). They feared weaponized viruses, released upon unsuspecting populations could have infection and mortality rates on the world’s population, much higher than the Spanish Flu. The discussions were sobering.
Although less catastrophic in terms of the potential loss of life, the potential devastation and havoc caused by engineered computer viruses has many similarities. The recent WannaCry virus is one of many intentionally mutated viruses designed to hold your data, and really, your livelihood, hostage. A more recent virus released, the Petya virus, was a deliberate mutation of the WannaCry virus, but with a big twist. When it came out, it was initially assumed to be a ransomware virus, one where the initiator of the virus, once you are infected, encrypts your data and holds it hostage till you make a payment. In other words, he holds the key or has the antidote already on the shelf. Petya appears to have been different.
Petya was different in some key ways. First, it appears that Petya when it was released, had no key, that is, no antidote. Although it initially came out as ransomware, there was no way to unencrypt the data, there was not any follow-up communication. Some money was paid but nothing happened. People started getting curious. After about 48 hours it was apparent that Petya was very likely a wiping virus. There was no key. Your stuff was gone.
Petya was also different in that it may have been politically motivated. It was released intentionally into the Ukraine and it shut down many of their governments computers. Like many pandemic type viruses that are being engineered and weaponized, containment is an issue. Once it is out, it is out and if there is no antidote, or in the case of a computer virus, no key, then the spread of the virus can be very fast and its creator has no way to stop it. Though Petya may have been a terrorist act or even a state sponsored attack, it was contained. There was collateral damage. It spilled over to banks and hospitals in Ukraine, and then into computers in Russia, Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world. Petya was eventually listed not as ransomware, but as a wiper virus, because the information it encrypted was lost forever.
Petya would have been easy to avoid. Like the shots I got last year to avoid various diseases I could have contracted visiting Africa, there were things people could have done to improve their immunity to Petya. Petya used the same exploits as WannaCry. When WannaCry came out, Microsoft became aware of holes in their software. They quickly made patches to seal those holes. Microsoft made those patches available to the public but obviously, not everyone applied them. This left the door open and Petya came right through it. Those patches are just like my shots, they were intended to create an immunity to the virus. But if you don’t get the shots, you won’t have the immunity.
Terrorist and state sponsored computer viruses are not likely to stop. In fact, they are likely to increase. They are cheap and effective weapons. Well-crafted viruses can shut down banks, hospitals,
transportation, electrical grids, governments, and militaries and businesses, yes even your business. They can effectively cripple a country. Moreover, like a living virus, it can spread well beyond its intended target. The collateral damage could quickly become catastrophic.
So, what can you do to be prepared? Great question. Here are three things that may prevent you from getting one of these catastrophic viruses, or at least ensure you have some hope of recovery. Make sure,
· Your patches are up to date
· Your security software updates continuously
· You use disconnected continuous backups
While the three things listed above could be done by just about anyone, you may not have the time. That is where SaviorLabs comes into the picture. Like those scientists who were experts in their fields, we are experts in network and computer security, and system backup. Contact us today with your questions and concerns. We make sure I.T. works.