Feature: Warning against ransomware attacks

  • Focus
  • Sunday, 29 Sep 2019

IT’S just like holding your computer hostage.

Ransomware is a software that blocks you from accessing your data until you pay the cybercriminals holding it hostage.

Over the past few years, most incidents of ransomware attacks in Malaysia have involved companies, reveals data from CyberSecurity Malaysia (CSM) made available to Sunday Star.

So far this year, 44 cases were reported to CSM’s Cyber999 Help Centre as of Sept 19.

Of those, 32 involved companies while nine were individuals.

The remaining three cases involved other entities such as NGOs.

There seems to be a decrease in cases since 2017.

There were 141 cases in 2017 and 62 in 2018.

(See details in the “Ransomware cases in Malaysia” chart, right.)

While the number of such attacks seems to be declining, their severity is not.

“The worst case scenario is that companies lose data and the trust of the public that they are capable of maintaining a secure system, ” says cybersecurity specialist Vincent Ho.

“Such loss in confidence can lead to loss of company stock value, ” he says.

Apart from risking being locked out of their own data, companies that do not safeguard their computer systems risk having important data fall into the wrong hands.

Businesses infected with ransomware may suffer a temporary or permanent loss of sensitive or proprietary information, disruption to regular operations, financial losses incurred in restoring files and potential harm to their reputation.

In November last year, Media Prima Berhad was reportedly hit by a ransomware attack mounted by cybercriminals who demanded millions of ringgit to unlock the company’s digital systems.

The attackers reportedly demanded the media company pay 1,000 bitcoins, or RM26.42mil, to regain access to their data.

Other countries are also still very much on alert for ransomware threats.

In August, the US government announced plans to protect voter registration databases from ransomware attacks ahead of its presidential election in 2020.

It’s obvious that there is still a need for companies, organisations and businesses – and the public at large – to be alert about these attacks.

This is especially true for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up a whopping 99% of business establishments in Malaysia.

CSM chief executive officer Datuk Dr Amirudin Abdul Wahab says that companies that do not have cybersecurity capabilities are easy targets.

Also, most attacks are due to the negligence of employees, he says.

“Companies that do not have strong cyberdefences will be unable to handle an incident if it occurs or worse, they may not even realise that they are a victim, ” he tells Sunday Star.

Amirudin says the main issue when it comes to companies is the lack of funds allocated to guarding their system’s security.

“Due to a lack of funding, their digital infrastructure cannot be properly protected.

“The most updated appliances or equipment may involve higher costs but still, digital systems should be protected, ” he says.

Among some of the security loopholes many companies fail to address are poor endpoint security defences, poor data backup and recovery, weak authentication and credential management as well as a general lack of cybersecurity awareness.

Urging Malaysian business owners and companies to be on the alert for cyberthreats, Amirudin advises them to ensure software is updated regularly.

“Their network should be monitored around the clock. Regular and consistent employee training in cybersecurity, especially in how to best recognise malicious files and ‘phishing’ websites, should also be carried out, ” he says.

Companies should also have data backups and the right business continuity and disaster recovery solutions in place.

“It is important to make sure all employees in an organisation are always aware of all kinds of cyberattacks such as ransomware and phishing.

“This is because most of the attacks are caused by the negligence of employees.

“As for the employers, they may consider applying an Information Security Management System standard which is known as ISO 27001, ” Amirudin advises.

The standard adopts a process-based approach for establishing, implementing, operating, monitoring, maintaining and improving the organisation’s security system.

“With all this in place, the risk of succumbing to cyberattacks will be reduced significantly, ” he says.

As for individual users, Amirudin says not all Malaysians are aware of the dangers of ransomware attacks.

“Statistics prove that Cyber999 keeps receiving complaints about such cases in our daily work.

“Given the numerous cyberattacks, ordinary Malaysians must also equip themselves with cybersecurity knowledge so they won’t become a victim.

“As dangerous as ransomware attacks are, simply being alert and staying updated with the latest ransomware trends can go a long way towards securing your data and systems, ” he says.

One of the services offered through CSM is MyCERT, the Malaysia Computer Emergency Response Team, which is the reference point for Malaysian Internet users in terms of computer security incidents.

MyCERT provides technical assistance in handling incidents such as intrusion, malware infection and online frauds.

It also puts up alerts and advisories on current cyberthreats.

Its services are available not only to individual users but also to the private sector and government agencies.

Those who encounter any cybersecurity incidents, including ransomware attacks, can report the case to and seek assistance from CSM’s Cyber999 help centre by calling its 24-hour mobile number, 019-266 5850, or going to mycert.org.my.

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