Cyber security now one of biggest global threats

More than 200,000 victims in 150 countries have been infected by ransomware in the latest cyber attack

IS cyber security now one of the biggest global threats? Some people think so.

And there is no shortage of examples to feed this view, including allegations of Russian interference, through cyber-attacks, in the US Presidential election, and the suggestion that it also targeted the presidential campaign in France.

The risk that criminals or foreign powers might hack into critical UK computer systems is now ranked as one of the top four threats to national security.

So, it can't have come as a great surprise that on Friday passed, a major cyber-attack, affecting more than 200,000 victims in 150 countries, took place. Amongst those worst-hit are NHS trust systems in England and Scotland. Europol says that it is an attack unprecedented in its scale.

The virus took control of users' files, demanding payments in return for unlocking them. The UK, alongside Russia has been amongst the countries most severely impacted.

Experts say that another attack could be imminent and have warned people to ensure their security is up-to-date.

Ransomware - software that blocks access to data until a ransom is paid - was combined with a worm application - a program that replicates itself in order to spread to other computers. This is allowing the infection of one computer to quickly spread across networks.

Although a temporary fix slowed the infection rate, the attackers have now released a newer version of the ransomware.

Companies need to make sure they have updated their systems and patched where they should.

In terms of dealing with such attacks, it's not enough to focus on trying to prevent them from happening; you also have to be ready for attacks that are actually successful. It's a case of ‘when', rather than ‘if'.

They do happen quite frequently, and often go unreported. They are a fact of today's world. This latest attack is clearly a significant one and highlights the importance of preparation and having redundancy plans in place.

You can put all the security you want in place, but you also need to implement appropriate methods for recovering things, backing up your data and your processes. An event like this is similar to a physical disaster, such as a loss of a data centre. Your response should be something akin to a business continuity disaster recovery scenario.

Ultimately you need to be prepared to lose some data integrity and restore to a previous point in time, or ‘pay the piper' – but even if you do pay up, there is no guarantee whatsoever that you'll get your data back.

Ransomware can be a little like blackmail. If the organisation has prepared a good, strong, and resilient continuity plan, and disaster recovery plan, it should be enacted immediately.

Cyber-security is a sector that Novosco is very active in. Last year, we acquired English specialist IT security solutions and managed services expert NetDef to add a world-class security specialism to our service offering. And it's an area that will only become more and more important to us.

It is clear is that cyber-attacks are a major concern from a national security perspective. They should also be a concern for businesses and other organisations.

Cyber-security is of the utmost importance. It's also big business; one of the fastest growing industries in the world. With cyber-attacks on the rise, governments and businesses are really sitting up and paying attention. The latest attack will only sharpen the focus.

:: Patrick McAliskey is managing director Novosco, an indigenous managed cloud company with offices in Belfast, Dublin, Cheshire and Cork. It employs 140 people and works for leading organisations across the UK and Ireland, including many of Northern Ireland's top companies, UK health trusts, councils and other organisations.

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