Irish researchers unite to battle growing ransomware threat

With WannaCry, Petya and NotPetya/GoldenEye doing the rounds, it’s easy to assume the cyberattacks we’re experiencing will never end.

Ransomware, with all its grisly efficiency, is proving the 2017 bête noire, a mere six months into the year.

But there are some people looking to address this issue, with a team of Irish researchers, and research bodies, now showing their hand.


Added impetus

The growth of different cyberattacks internationally has essentially provided the impetus for developing a national research initiative in cybersecurity in Ireland, which is being led by Dr Michael Madden of NUI Galway.

Called S4 (Scientific Solutions for Secure Society), the initiative will create a partnership between the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, the LERO Software Engineering Research Centre, and the Connect Centre for future research on networks and communications.

Researchers from NUI Galway, Dublin City University, Athlone IT, Waterford IT, University College Dublin and University of Limerick will be involved on the project.

The team thinks that the harnessing of synergies between academics, industry, state agencies, and international collaborators, the country’s resilience to threats will be improved.

With additional employment hoped for, too, Madden and his colleagues have already held workshops and conventions in recent weeks to plan for this new reality.

Claiming Ireland, like all countries, faces “significant security threats”, Madden said that more than half of all Irish companies reported a data breach last year.

“Cybercrime is estimated to have cost Irish companies €600 million in 2015, and this is projected to reach €1 billion by 2020,” he said.

“In addition, we have seen large-scale data breaches experienced by multinational organisations internationally, such as Yahoo and JP Morgan, even before the recent disruption caused by this new ransomware.”

Prepare for attacks

The new initiative will focus on four research pillars: AI for security, web-scale security analytics, edge to cloud security and trust and privacy management.

“It is clear from the feedback received […] that there is great capacity for closer academic and industry collaboration on security research, and many opportunities for growing this important area of research and the overall security ecosystem in Ireland,” said Madden.

As part of the announcement’s initiative, NUI Galway included five steps to help guard against ransomware attacks.

  • Make sure you have backups in place for your important data, and that they are running correctly – the best response to a ransomware attack is to erase your computer, reinstall your programs, and restore your documents, photos, and other data from backups
  • Have Windows auto-updates turned on – there was an update from Microsoft about a month ago, to fix the specific weakness that was exploited by WannaCry, but new ransomware programs will make use of newly discovered exploits
  • Have Windows Firewall and Windows Defender active. Use additional anti-virus software if possible, and if you do, keep it running and up-to-date
  • Whenever you receive an email message with a link or attachment, take great care to ensure that it is legitimate and expected, before clicking on the link or opening the attachment
  • If in doubt, just don’t open links or attachments. Contact the sender to verify whether they really sent the message

If these steps prove unsuccessful, Madden’s advice is simple: don’t pay up.

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