5 ways to become a smaller target for ransomware hackers

A computer technician connects a computer into a network server in an office building in Washington DC

Countries around the world braced Monday for the spread of a massive ransomware cyberattack crippling thousands of computers at banks, hospitals and government institutions.

That prompted the company to issue another patch on Friday for older and unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP, allowing users to secure their systems without requiring an upgrade to the latest operating software.

Spanish firm Telefonica, French automaker Renault, the US -based delivery service FedEx and the German railway Deutsche Bahn were among those affected.

Europol executive director Rob Wainwright said the situation could worsen on Monday as workers return to their offices after the weekend and log on.

Wainwright described the cyberattack as an "escalating threat".

On social media students complained about not being able to access their work, and people in various cities said they hadn't been able to take their driving tests over the weekend because some local traffic police systems were down.

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What has tech security experts really anxious about this development is the fact that more exploits were released during the NSA leak than what caused last week's attack.

"There's a lot of older Windows products out there that are "end of life" and nobody's bothered to take them out of service", said Cynthia Larose, a cybersecurity expert at the law firm of Mintz Levin. The VEP was established to determine whether the government should withhold or disclose information about computer software security vulnerabilities. The NSA tools were stolen by hackers and dumped on the internet.

A hacking group called Shadow Brokers released the malware in April, claiming to have discovered the flaw from the NSA, Kaspersky said.

He criticised U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA and NSA, for "stockpiling" such code that could be used by hackers.

Exploits in the hands of governments have repeatedly leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage, wrote Smith, who compared the leaks of Central Intelligence Agency and NSA vulnerabilities to the USA military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.

"This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem", Smith wrote.

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"An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the USA military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen", Smith wrote.

"The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call", Smith said. It was benign because it contained a flaw that prevented it from taking over computers and demanding ransom to unlock files but other more malicious ones will likely pop up. The company believes the problems are related to the ransomware attack, although no ransom is being demanded. In 2000, a Filipino computer graduate unleashed the "Love Bug" virus that wreaked havoc in at least 20 countries and caused losses estimated at up to $10 billion.

Around a fifth of trusts were hit in Friday's attack, which affected hundreds of organisations around the world.

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein). A screenshot of the warning screen from a purported ransomware attack, as captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on laptop in Beijing, Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Carmaker Renault said one of its French plants, which employs 3,500 people, wasn't reopening Monday as a "preventative step".

Germany's rail operator Deutsche Bahn said its station display panels were affected.

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Sixteen National Health Service organizations in the United Kingdom were hit, and some of those hospitals canceled outpatient appointments and told people to avoid emergency departments if possible.

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