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article imageOp-Ed: Ransomware — Why so helpless? Why is security so useless?

By Paul Wallis     May 14, 2017 in Internet
Sydney - Ransomware is a plague. It’s everywhere, and it’s not new. Security industries have been aware of it for many years, and yet it’s still viable? Why is a well-known method of hijacking computers still possible?
The current state of play with ransomware includes copycat malware, and waves of attacks. The pattern is the same; computers are encrypted, and you have to pay to have your computer unlocked, trusting the hackers to un-encrypt. The response? Much handwringing and caterwauling, and “Isn’t it terrible?” comments from anyone with media access, and no noticeable effective action during the current crisis.
The basics
Encryption simply encodes software functions differently. If you don’t have the key to un-encrypt, you’re screwed. You need safe backups, and even hard copy, if necessary, to protect your information.
Ransomware, naturally, is targeted at companies which are likely to be good sources of revenue for hackers. You could predict which companies are the most likely to be hit.
Ransomware is also a form of extortion, basically a criminal offence. Not much action on this front, either. A few cases could deliver a significant deterrent.
Old systems are major liabilities. Big organisations, like the U.K. NHS are even still using XP, a long-obsolete, almost completely unprotected operating system. This is an own goal, and inexcusable in any modern nation’s health service. The damage is extensive, and although I don’t doubt for a second that someone’s trying very hard to fix the problems, this major hit was easily avoidable and should never have happened.
Ransomware: how hackers take your data hostage
Ransomware: how hackers take your data hostage
Why internet security is such a bad joke
If you’re somehow forming the impression that this is Business As Usual for everyone but the victims, you’re quite right. Internet security is a joke, and a bad one. Cyber attacks, whether espionage or criminal, have never really stopped in the 20+ years history of the modern Internet. Ransomware is about as endangered as a sacred cow in India. Typically, security is a cash cow, and everyone gets milked regularly. I've met some very arrogant people from the industry, and my personal opinions aside, I don't see what they have to be arrogant about.
As a matter of fact, you don’t even need software to hack in to a system. Fairly basic coding knowledge is all that’s required. I’m not going to tell you how, but a few code characters can do it quite easily.
Basic encryption is also pretty easy. You can do it yourself with some email services. No talent required, just a simple two-step process to encrypt and un-encrypt.
What’s missing from security?
To start with, a master key for computer users to manage encryptions is missing. You could have a clients-only standalone with a fast “unlock everything” function, which is basically restoring normal functions and eliminating the encryption coding. It could also search for and eliminate the payload copies the current ransomware is generating if it is un-encrypted.
Also missing are any prevention measures against payloads. I remember when Microsoft was ridiculed for adding the “Do you want to run this” step in its software, and the ridicule has been proved wrong so often. Why not throw a few spanners in the works of payload installs? Why not have a “don’t run anything unless I say it’s OK” function, almost identical to existing security?
Cloud-based restore points on secure servers might also work. OK, it’ll cost something, but better that than extortion from anyone with a bit of encryption software.
SQL-based passwords are also very hard to crack. These are like banking passwords, three levels, and considered hard targets. Make it five levels, and they’d be almost impossible to crack. Theoretically, they could be, but at X hours to crack per single computer, it’d hardly be worth it.
An off-computer manual kill switch, using wireless or USB, might also work. Just plug in, and it destroys all non-Windows system coding including encryptions. (Encryption, by definition, has to encrypt known computer codes to work at all.) Might cause some trivial inconvenience to some users, but better than extortion.
Professionals please excuse the slightly simplistic expressions, but I’m writing to consumers and businesses, not you guys. This is all existing technology, or easy to do with existing codes.
Meanwhile, while the Internet “security” industry is having a snooze, check out the anti-ransomware options available on the market. Better than nothing, and who knows, they might even work, for once.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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