Earlier this month, global computer networks were hit with the “Wannacry” ransomware cryptoworm. The attack started on Friday, 12 May 2017, and within a day was reported to have infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries.
WannaCry spreads across local networks and the Internet to systems that have not been updated with recent security updates, to directly infect any exposed systems. Even though Microsoft had issued a “critical” patch for the Windows operating system nearly two months before the attack, many organizations had not yet applied it. Those running older, unsupported, versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, were particularly vulnerable. However, Microsoft took the unusual step of also releasing updates for those operating systems.
Shortly after the attack began, a web security researcher who blogs as “MalwareTech” discovered an effective kill switch by registering a domain name he found in the code of the ransomware. This greatly slowed the spread of the infection, effectively halting the initial outbreak on Monday, 15 May 2017, but new versions have since been detected that lack the kill switch. Researchers have also found ways to recover data from infected machines under some circumstances.
Unfortunately, attacks like this are becoming more prevalent, as “hackers” try to exploit vulnerabilities in operating systems. Part of the problem, however, is lax protocols on the part of individuals and organizations. As long as people do not regularly update their operating systems and security software as well as use complex passwords that are updated regularly, these attacks will continue.
As investors, cybersecurity takes on a greater level of importance. With so much banking and trading down online these days, we are “exposing” our digital financial fingerprint every day. Luckily, there is sufficient security software to protect us most of the time. Add in some common sense and most of us are secure when transacting online.
AAII Weekly Survey Question
To get an idea of how worried our readers are about cyberattacks such as “Wannacry,” we asked the following question:
How worried are you about rising cybersecurity threats to your financial information in the aftermath of the “Wannacry” ransomware cyberattacks?
Here are the results:
In all, 2,244 readers responded to our weekly survey.
It is encouraging to see that a majority of our readers are worried about the rising cybersecurity threat. Hopefully, if our readers are worried about their cybersecurity, they are taking steps to ensure it.
Fifty-seven percent of our readers who responded say they are worried or very worried about rising cyber security threats to their financial information.
One-third (33%) said they are not very worried about the safety of their financial information.
The remaining 10% of respondents were either not sure what to think about cybersecurity threats to their financial information (4%), were not worried at all (4%) or don’t think about the threat cyberattacks pose to their financial information.
Weekly Special Question
As I alluded to earlier, worry (hopefully) leads to action. In this case, if someone is concerned about the safety of their financial information, they should be taking steps to ensure the likelihood that it isn’t “hacked.”
To find out what our readers are doing to protect their financial information, we posted this special question:
What steps do you take to help ensure your financial data is protected?
In all, 206 readers responded to this question.
Over one-third of readers (34.5%) mentioned updating their passwords more frequently or making them “stronger” by using a mix of letters (upper- and lower-case), numbers and special characters.
Nearly 17% said they update their anti-virus software and scan their computers more often,
Almost 14% said they are more aware of what they are doing online and are more careful of the links they click on and emails they open.
Other themes that developed from the responses include:
- Backing up their computer on a regular basis
- Use credit monitoring services such as LifeLock
- Make sure they keep their operating systems updated
- Avoiding public wi-fi
Surprisingly, only three readers mentioned using a Mac as a step they have taken to boost their cybersecurity. That is encouraging since the operating system you use does not ensure you are protected from online threats. In fact, a growing number of hackers are purposefully targeting the Mac OS to take advantage of this perceived invulnerability among many Mac users,.
One respondent is taking cybersecurity to an extreme:
- “I live in a cave.”
And one reader is looking to a higher power to protect their online financial information:
- “I pray a lot!”
Everybody has an opinion! Why not give us yours? Participate in our weekly member poll, updated every Monday, and see the results online at http://www.aaii.com/memberquestion.