Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 17th 2017 Contents tobagotoday.co.tt May 17 - 2017
5 Ways to become a smaller target
for ransomware hackers
This weekend's global online extortion
attack reinforces the need for businesses
and other large organizations to update
their computer operating systems and secu-
rity software, cybersecurity experts said.
The attack largely infected networks that
used out-of-date software, such as Windows
XP, which Microsoft no longer offers tech-
nical support for.
"There's some truth to the idea that peo-
ple are always going to hack themselves,"
said Dan Wire, a spokesman for security
firm FireEye. "You've got to keep your sys-
The attack that authorities say swept 150
countries this weekend is part of a growing
problem of "ransomware" scams, in which
people find themselves locked out of their
files and presented with a demand to pay
hackers to restore their access.
Hackers bait users to click on infected
email links, open infected attachments or
take advantage of outdated and vulnerable
systems. This weekend's virus was particu-
larly virulent, because it could spread to all
other computers on a network even if just
one user clicked a bad link or attachment.
Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based blog-
ger who runs BleepingComputer.com, says
many organizations don't install security
upgrades because they're worried about trig-
gering bugs, or they can't afford the down-
Here are five tips to make yourself a
MAKE SAFE AND SECURE BACKUPS
Once your files are encrypted, your options
are limited. Recovery from backups is one
of them. "Unfortunately, most people don't
have them," Abrams says. Backups often are
also out of date and missing critical infor-
mation. With this attack, Abrams recom-
mends trying to recover the "shadow volume"
copies some versions of Windows have.
Some ransomware does also sometimes
targets backup files, though.
You should make multiple backups - to
cloud services and using physical disk drives,
at regular and frequent intervals. It's a good
idea to back up files to a drive that remains
entirely disconnected from your network.
UPDATE AND PATCH YOUR SYSTEMS
The latest ransomware was successful
because of a confluence of factors. Those
include a known and highly dangerous secu-
rity hole in Microsoft Windows, tardy users
who didn't apply Microsoft's March software
fix, and malware designed to spread quick-
ly once inside university, business and gov-
ernment networks. Updating software will
take care of some vulnerability.
"Hopefully people are learning how
important it is to apply these patches," said
Darien Huss, a senior security research engi-
neer for cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, who
helped stem the reach of the weekend attack.
"I hope that if another attack occurs, the
damage will be a lot less."
The virus targeted computers using Win-
dows XP, as well as Windows 7 and 8, all
of which Microsoft stopped servicing years
ago. Yet in an unusual step, they released a
patch for those older systems because of the
magnitude of the outbreak.
"There's a lot of older Windows products
out there that are 'end of life' and nobody's
bothered to take them out of service," said
Cynthia Larose, a cybersecurity expert at the
law firm of Mintz Levin.
USE ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE
Using antivirus software will at least pro-
tect you from the most basic, well-known
viruses by scanning your system against the
known fingerprints of these pests. Low-end
criminals take advantage of less-savvy users
with such known viruses, even though mal-
ware is constantly changing and antivirus is
frequently days behind detecting it.
EDUCATE YOUR WORKFORCE
Basic protocol such as stressing that work-
ers shouldn't click on questionable links or
open suspicious attachments can save head-
aches. System administrators should ensure
that employees don't have unnecessary access
to parts of the network that aren't critical
to their work. This helps limit the spread of
ransomware if hackers do get into your sys-
IF HIT, DON'T WAIT AND SEE
Some organizations disconnect computers
as a precautionary measure. Shutting down
a network can prevent the continued encryp-
tion - and possible loss - of more files.
Hackers will sometimes encourage you to
keep your computer on and linked to the
network, but don't be fooled.
If you're facing a ransom demand and
locked out of your files, law enforcement
and cybersecurity experts discourage paying
ransoms because it gives incentives to hack-
ers and pays for their future attacks. There's
also no guarantee all files will be restored.
Many organizations without updated back-
ups may decide that regaining access to
critical files, such as customer data, and
avoiding public embarrassment is worth the
Ryan O'Leary, vice president of WhiteHat
Security's threat research center, points out
that this weekend's hackers weren't asking
for much, usually about $300.
"If there is a silver lining to it, you're not
out a million dollars," he said.
Still, "My answer is, never pay the ransom,"
Abrams said. "But at the same time, I also
know that if you're someone who's been
affected and you've lost all your children's
photographs or you've lost all your data or
you lost your thesis, sometimes $300 is
worth it, you know?"
This Friday Aug. 14, 2009 file photo shows a sign outside one of London's National Health
Service hospitals. Several British hospitals say they are having major computer problems
Hospitals in London, northwest England and other parts of the country are reporting
problems with their computer systems as the result of an apparent cyberattack, Friday May
12, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)
Conversica CEO discusses future of artificial intelligence
NEW YORK - Artificial intelligence is all
around us, whether it's to recommend mov-
ies you might like or weed out unsavory
videos. Smaller companies such as Con-
versica are joining the likes of Google and
Facebook in pursuing AI.
Conversica sells digital assistants to busi-
nesses ranging from car dealerships to real
estate companies. They work just as an
entry-level sales or marketing person would;
customers usually don't know they're inter-
acting with software, or a bot, when respond-
ing to a sales pitch or seeking help.
Conversica CEO Alex Terry spoke recent-
ly with The Associated Press about the future
of AI and its impact on jobs. Questions and
responses have been edited for clarity and
point where people couldn't tell they
are conversing with a bot?
A: We have been doing this for seven years,
and it's a function not only of time but also
the amount of training data. At this point
we've had over 215 million messages go
through our AI platform, and those messag-
es help us train the system to respond like
Q: How does natural language pro-
A: Software reads messages that are com-
ing in and understands what the person is
saying. Then we figure out what we should
do for that particular customer. If you think
about Siri or Alexa, those are examples where
the computer is listening to a spoken sentence
or paragraph and figures out what someone
means. Like if I say "what's the weather out
today?" you have to understand what's the
weather and then some kind of location.
Q: What happens to the people who
would have handled these responses?
A: Typically we see our customers hire
more people, not less. It's about a 6 to 1
ratio of customers that hire more staff vs.
those who use the efficiencies from AI to
reduce the size of their team.
Q: What are the biggest challenges
A: On the technical side, it's making sure
these experiences are really seamless and
genuinely helpful. Our systems are getting
smarter all the time. But that isn't our big-
gest challenge. Our biggest challenge is get-
ting the word out there. People tend to be
hesitant to try something that sounds almost
like science fiction.
Q: Do you think stuff like Siri and
Alexa are helping with this?
A: I think it really is helping. For example,
Facebook trying to find fake news, that's a
great example of using really powerful tech-
nology, pattern matching. I think people
using Alexa or Siri or even recognizing that
Netflix is using pattern matching to recom-
mend a new movie you might like, it actu-
ally makes your life easier and better. People
are becoming less fearful of the technology
as they see actual benefits in their day-to-
day lives. (AP)
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