South African companies have been hit by another round of cyber attacks as the latest iteration of a highly virulent ransomware has reached our shores.
According to Pieter Erasmus, an IT security strategist who works in association with Moyo Business Advisory, the malware attack first manifested itself in Kiev, Ukraine on Tuesday and was slowly spreading across the world.
The new Petya attack reportedly uses the same intrusion tool as a similar attack in May and has been similarly disruptive on daily life with hospitals, government offices and major multinationals among the casualties of the ransomware payload.
As in the previous attack a ransom is charged for a digital key which will allegedly restore that encrypted data.
So far outbreaks have been reported in the Ukraine, Russia and the United States. There have also been a number of outbreaks in Europe.
Some local companies here in South Africa have also reported being affected.
How to protect yourself
Erasmus noted that the best protection against any form of malware was vigilance.
“The single most important thing users can do is to make sure that their PCs that run Windows are updated with the latest security upgrades from Microsoft,” he said.
“The next cardinal rule is not to open emails from unknown sources and never to click on hot links within emails. It is also wise to avoid questionable web sites such as those hawking pirate movies and music.”
Erasmus stressed that it was important to ensure that every computer within a network was upgraded with the latest security patches from Microsoft.
“As long as there are hackers willing to do the bidding of rogue states like North Korea, Iran and Russia it will be a relatively simple matter to make changes to the malware that is in circulation in order to release future attacks.
Citing the New York Times he also noted that in some instances it may not be possible to restore infected computers because of damage that was done by the malware.
“This attack and the one before it two weeks ago are by far the largest attacks that have ever taken place. Malware has been an ongoing problem for a long time.”
“Because we do not have compulsory reporting of such incidents (cyber crime), and because so many are swept under the carpet and cannot be included in statistics it may actually be more than the two to three billion rand a year figure that is commonly quoted for South Africa.”