I’ve experienced a hack attack. And boy, did it cost me a bit

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By Alvin R. Cabral

It was a fine early Saturday morning some years ago. I was on my annual leave enjoying my time with my family when, for some reason, I decided to slap back my UAE SIM card into my phone, because up until that point, I wasn’t using it to shield me from anything that would disturb my precious quality time. Seconds after I switched on my phone, three text messages in succession showed up, each with the same message. “Cash withdrawal of [substantial amount] with debit card ending in [last four ATM card digits] at [some place in Metro Manila]. Available balance is [what’s left of it].” Here’s the problem: the last time I withdrew cash at that time was a week earlier, and I was about 60km from where the withdrawals were made. (Insert face-screaming-in-fear emoji here. My eyes widened to the size of golf balls and I spat out my coffee in utter disbelief.) Looking back, I concluded I was the victim of some ATM skimming modus operandi and, in a flash, I lost thousands of dirhams. And though the amount was returned to me with the help of the bank here, the wringer I had to go through was excruciating, flat-out unnecessary and figuratively pointless. So far, that was the worst thing I’ve dealt with in the cyber-arena, honourable mentions going to that laughing demonic face that left me flustered when I was a kid and that really obnoxious Windows Defence Master virus some years ago (unless we throw in all the haters and bullies in our comments sections). I could even probably add that “self-inflicted cyber-attack” when I accidentally partitioned my home PC without backing up my files over a decade ago. Sheesh. So allow yours truly to strike a warning: make sure you know what you’re doing with anything related to technology. Ignorance is no excuse for the (largely unwritten) digital laws. Now if you’re an everyday computer user, you’ve probably heard of the WannaCry shenanigans – unless you’ve just arrived from the Moon or emerged from a little spelunking from the Earth’s core the past few days. To recap, about 150 countries were infected by what has been called an unprecedented cyber-attack. WannaCry is a type of ransomware that locks down a computer; the perpetrators initially demand $300 (Dh1,100), double it if you don’t pay up after three days and render all your data lost after a week if you still refuse to budge. Experts say that, as at this writing, only a shade above $56,000 has been paid in ‘ransom,’ according to the records of the three bitcoin wallets provided for payment, as reported by PC World. That’s a huge amount, but probably not what the crooks expected. Still, it’s part of a bigger scheme: Eugene Kaspersky, founder of the eponymous cyber-security firm, when I met him in Sharjah recently, pegged the global cyber-crime impact at half-a-trillion bucks – bigger than the UAE’s GDP. Cyber-risk modelling company Cyence, meanwhile, forecasts that losses from the ingenious malware could skyrocket to about $4 billion in a worst-case scenario. (To put that into perspective, losses from such schemes amounted to a pedestrian $1.5 billion in 2016, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.) The problem with this whole situation is that viruses and cyber-attacks in general can – sadly – only get better, nastier and more difficult to counter. Never mind if tech firms will be able to release some patches or eventually (hopefully soon, in certain scenarios) counter these onslaughts; as they learn and create, so can those on the dark side of the fence. As one kid told me recently, “it could start World War III” – not a war with those deafening arsenals, but one that will clearly put the limits of cyber-warfare to the test. It’s funny how this whole situation is playing out. What’s happening is a prime example of how something good can be so bad. As Jarvis told Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 regarding the palladium core powering the superhero’s Arc Reactor in his chest, “Unfortunately, the device that’s keeping you alive is also killing you”. I don’t have to imagine that killing sensation; I got to experience it first-hand. Mind you, when I first came across ransomware ages ago, I felt so intrigued by it that at the time I wanted to actually see what it looks like with my very eyes. But having said the above, I feel guilty about it now; I don’t want to. Ever. Not even in a safe computer testing environment. By the way, some days after I was cyber-robbed, we saw on the news that a gang of ATM skimmers were busted. They could be the ones involved in my horrifying experience; how we just wish all cyber-offenders get apprehended that easily.–(Courtesy–Khaleej Times)

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