A security expert weighs in on the recent proliferation of cyberattacks around the world, and offers some sound, easy to follow advice on how to stay secure.
We’ve seen a surprisingly large number of exploits over the past few weeks, many tied to recent releases of exploits by groups like the Shadowbrokers and Wikileaks. This, in and of itself, isn’t surprising. These leaks were zero-day exploits, with actual code exploiting the vulnerabilities. This kind of thing is unfortunate, certainly, for everybody involved. But it shouldn’t be surprising, and I feel we can expect it to escalate in the future.
So how can you protect yourself from this?
Well, keep in mind, these holes were patched very shortly after release. They were in fact patched prior to the propagation of the ability to exploit these flaws as well. And this was a high-impact flaw. There’s plenty of other malware systems in the wild today that exploit much older vulnerabilities, and do so successfully. The Terror Exploit Kit, for example, attacks vulnerabilities identified in 2013,2015, and 2016. The Rig Exploit Kit uses vulnerabilities all from 2013.
In some cases, systems really can’t be updated with patches as soon as they’re released. These kinds of systems are frequently read-only because they run specific software packages that can’t be ported to a more modern operating system. Malware will take advantage of this if it can – WannaCry took advantage of this to attack Windows XP systems, after all. Others can’t be updated because of regulatory burdens or incorporation into larger systems that make updating very difficult at best – like power plants or manufacturing systems where downtime is extraordinarily expensive.
This may be true, but the vast majority of exploited systems are not in these situations. They’re simply not patched because, well, people aren’t patching them. This kind of thing needs to stop. Companies that manage fleets of PCs need to have near real-time patch distribution processes, and these processes must be in place from the beginning. They need to be in place, and they need to be used. Home computer users need to update their software as soon as they’re able as well. Backup your data, and turn on automatic patch installation.
And that old XP PC at your parent’s house? Yeah, no. Time to upgrade.
The vast majority of cybersecurity incidents can be avoided. We have the resources to do it, we’re just not doing what we need to do.
Keep your computers clean – practice good security hygiene.