Staying safe in the cyber world

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Don’t click on that!

A recent ransomware attack that knocked out the Government of Nunavut’s computers and prompted the GNWT to block all emails coming from our neighbour to the east has underscored the dangers lurking online for all users.
The attack demonstrates how even a supposedly sophisticated government institution can be brought to its digital knees by someone opening an email with a malicious attachment. This is causing problems for the GNWT, as it normally work closely with the GN in areas such as medical services and tourism but now they can’t communicate by email.
This online caution when dealing with the Nunavut government should extend to all residents receiving GN emails.
That’s what Gabe Powless, owner of Yellowknife’s Raven Web Services told Yellowknifer this week.
When someone uses a computer or other device connected to the affected network, it increases the possibility of phishing, or other attacks, he said. And that just spreads the problem around.
Powless explained the governments of both Nunavut and NWT are vulnerable to an attack. The use of older technology means their web security often isn’t upgraded at the speed standards require.
And those types of preventative measures apply to everyone with a computer in their homes or businesses.
Northern News Services Ltd., was itself the victim of a ransomware attack several years ago. We had to shut down our server and reboot with backup files — which were luckily available.
It was March 2016 and other computers in the city were hit with the same ransomware that digitally locked files and demanded a payment to unlock them.
Most ransomware attempts come through emails, but someone can also get in trouble by clicking on social media links that ask the user to download and install something to watch a video.
The infection at NNSL happened when a staff member opened an email with a subject line that referred to an electricity invoice. A zipped file was attached. When the attached file was opened, it installed the ransomware. It began encrypting, or digitally locking, files at the rate of hundreds per second.
Anti-hacking education is key.
A hacker can hijack your usernames and passwords. They can also: steal your money and open credit card and bank accounts in your name; ruin your credit; make purchases; obtain cash advances; and sell your information to other parties who will use it for illicit or illegal purposes.
To prevent hacking, it’s important to update your operating system and applications on all your computers and portable devices as soon as the updates are available. Sure, it might delay your access to Instagram for a few minutes, but it’s really a critical defence against hacking.
You should also use caution when entering chat rooms or posting on personal web pages. And limit the amount of personal information you post online.
Also monitor requests by online “friends” or acquaintances who ask you to take a certain action, or to download a file. And avoid questionable websites — yes, we mean those adult sites.
It’s also important to use antivirus protection. This is now true for both Macs and PCs.
And don’t just casually click on everything that pops into your email inbox. Don’t open messages from unknown senders and immediately delete messages you suspect to be spam.
The GNWT should embark on an information campaign to inform Northerners how to avoid viruses and ransomware attacks.
We’re all in it together. If somebody’s computer is hacked in Yellowknife that computer can be used to hack government computers.

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