by Graham Pierrepoint
The recent hacking of the UK’s NHS network has brought about a stern and cold warning to PC users all over the world – that ransomware is a growing threat, and that even the biggest of institutions are at risk of losing considerable data and control from a simple exploitation of code or even the opening of the wrong file. The NHS is responsible for holding the medical data of millions of UK citizens under wraps, meaning that an explosive hack this past week has grabbed headlines throughout the country and indeed Europe – as control over databases, people’s records and more besides were effectively held to ransom.
Ransomware is a program developed to lock away victims’ data until a certain fee is paid to the programmer, usually demanded via Bitcoin due to its lack of a paper trail. Many security experts have warned of the rise of ransomware for some time, and with a huge organisation such as the NHS having fallen victim to the attack, it is perhaps time that millions everywhere learn a lesson from the event – as it is suggested that the vast majority of PCs operating within the organisation were running Windows XP. Windows XP, for reference, hasn’t been supported by Microsoft in the form of further updates since 2014 – meaning that, in 2017, big companies and organisations such as the NHS run a huge risk of keeping the operating system in place.
This event has therefore sent a stark message out to all PC users – if Microsoft no longer supports your operating system, you run the risk of opening yourself up to potential attacks from more advanced malware – and if the claims regarding the NHS running XP for so long are true, many will be asking why a wider move to Windows 7 at the very least wasn’t mounted. Regardless of whether or not costs are involved, once your data is in the hands of an outsider, it’s out there forever.
Therefore, we can all learn from this attack – it never hurts to be too careful when it comes to protecting against hacking and ransomware – and if you are still running XP in 2017, it may be time to start considering an alternative operating system, or to at least safeguard yourself and your data against the internet’s ever-changing landscape. Keep vigilant – don’t open files you don’t trust – and keep your data backed up and off-site wherever possible!