Ransomware increases cyberattack risks despite security steps

  • Farhan Ferdous, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2019-11-18 13:51:26 BdST

Ferdous, a resident in Moghbazar, was installing a new operating system turning off the antivirus protection on his computer. His computer screen froze after he installed the new system and inappropriate websites began to pop up.

Ferdous failed to open any file saved on his computer. He was asked to pay bitcoins worth $500 in a notice that popped up every time he tried to open a file. It even displayed an email ID to contact. Separately, an employee of an information technology company received an email on financial issues but he lost all of his data stored on the computer after he opened the email. Some of his colleagues faced similar problems.

In both cases, it was a virus attack or in technological jargon, a malware. A malware is special software prepared to enter unauthorised in a computer system to harm it. Those malwares that demand money after the attack is known as ransomware.

Some ransomwares are able to encrypt all files stored on the hard disk. Usually, the encryption key cannot be broken without paying the ransom. Some of them use a programme to lock the user's system and allure the user to pay a ransom through displayed messages.

Usually, virus attacks happen when the user clicks a spam link, phishing mail or installs unknown software or app.

Despite the commendable progress in digitalisation in every aspect of life, the number of cyberattacks in Bangladesh continued to rise with time.

The number of cyberattacks rose to 156 in October from 127 in the previous month, according to the Bangladesh E-government Computer Incident Response Team, or CIRT, which manages cyber security in government networks and related infrastructure. Bangladesh recorded as many as 151 cyberattacks in eight months -- from January to August. The number of cyberattacks in the country was 379 in 2016, 663 in 2017 and 670 in 2018.

At least 32.9 percent of the attacks were planned to collect information. The team termed the 18.2 percent of such incidents as 'vulnerable' meaning the victims could have faced damage. Other 16.7 percent of the attacks were sorted as malicious code and 9.6 percent include abusive content, fraud, information security, intrusion attempt and availability.

Arif, an official in the Data Recovery Station, said they come across six incidents a day where ransomware destroys a computer’s data. Earlier, it was around two incidents a day, he said.

“Our country is a safe haven for cyberattacks as we use a lot of pirated software,” Suman Ahmed, chief technology officer at Fiber@Home, told bdnews24.com.

“It will cause havoc if there’s an attack in the financial sector as the country is less familiar with the cyberattack issue and also the IT infrastructure is not prepared to confront such attacks,” he said.

“We monitor the important areas of Bangladesh Bank; the bank itself monitors too. Our capacity has enhanced and no one can harm us in a bigger way,” said Tarek M Barkatullah, a member of the CIRT team and a director of Bangladesh Computer Council when asked how much the country’s financial sector is vulnerable to the cyberattacks.

“It’s not that easy for ransomware to suddenly attack and ruin everything. We can detect when ransomware moves towards a bank and inform the authorities.”

“We came to know about a possible big cyberattack on Aug 8 and informed all the banks. They took precautionary measures and faced no harm,” he said.

Barkatullah shared the measures by the government taken to prevent a ransomware attack. “We’ve set up cyber sensors at the important points in the country on behalf of the government and monitoring the points round the clock.”

Around 157 cyberattacks in October were prevented, according to him.

“For example, there was an attack attempted on Agrani Bank on the day of Durga Puja; initially the hackers used virus and bot. We informed the authorities afternoon and they succeeded to prevent the attack by the evening,” said Barkatullah.

Bot or robots are viruses containing artificial intelligence and attack in a group. The hackers release around 5,000 bots in every attack.

At least $10,000 was stolen from 300 transactions by turning the local credit cards into international credit cards of a commercial bank in Bangladesh through the cyberattack.

In 2016, the hackers stole Tk 81 million from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the New York Federal Reserve. The CIRT was established at the Bangladesh Computer Centre to prevent such incidents.

The number of cybercrimes will increase as the government’s digitalisation and use of information technology in the private sector increase, according to Barkatullah.

It is hard to compensate once such an attack happens; therefore, it is better to prevent them, IT expert Sabir suggested. The users should stop using pirated software and use the e-mail service carefully, he added.

“We should use original software instead of the pirated one. The bug inside pirated software assists cyberattacks,” he said.

 “People can only use free software that does not attack the system if they can’t afford to buy original software. While using email, one should verify it against the subject. They should not open an email if it looks suspicious.”