The digital world is full of risks and pitfalls – but one is more dangerous than others. According to Lindy Cameron, chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, computerised extortion is the one to watch out for.
Cameron’s job is to protect the UK from cyberthreats – including major attacks by hostile foreign governments. During a recent speech however, she claimed that ransomware presents the most immediate threat and disruptive potential:
“For the vast majority of UK citizens and businesses, and indeed for the vast majority of critical national infrastructure providers and government service providers, the primary key threat is not state actors but cybercriminals.”
Dangerous and effective
Cyberwarfare targets important national infrastructure like transport or the power grid, causing chaos in the target country. Cybercriminals are motivated by money however, increasingly relying on ransomware to attack businesses and individuals to extort cash.
Ransomware is the weapon of choice because it is easy to spread and it really works. By blocking access to important data, the hackers know that affected businesses and individuals face a hard choice – pay the ransom or risk losing their files forever.
Cybercriminals are now finely targeting their attacks for greatest effect. Large companies remain the most popular targets because they are able to pay ransoms worth millions of dollars. However, small companies and individuals are also at significant risk – hackers simply demand a smaller, more affordable ransom that people are more likely to pay.
An international crisis
Although she didn’t mention them directly, Cameron also insisted that national governments need to play an active role in helping to stop cybercrime. Many ransomware attacks are launched from former Soviet republics like Russia. Although not officially condoned, criminal activity against foreign countries is often ignored by the authorities in these countries. “Criminals don’t exist in a vacuum. They are often enabled and facilitated by states acting with impunity,” she explained.
Cameron also called on the British government to do more to strengthen cyber defences. She suggested a “whole-of-government” approach” is required to enhance cyber resilience and to adopt a diplomatic stance, building an understanding with those countries known to harbour cybercriminals. This was followed by a request for “the strongest criminal justice outcomes for those we apprehend”.
Where GCHQ is concerned with protecting the UK as a whole, individuals can do more to protect themselves against cybercrime too. The best defence against ransomware is an effective antimalware package like Panda Dome. In the event that you are attacked, Panda Dome will detect suspicious activity and block the malware before it can encrypt your data. No encrypted files means no there’s ransom to pay.