This week saw a massive cyberattack hit companies and individuals all around the world. The ransomware attack began in Russia and Ukraine. From there it quickly went global.
If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘ransomware’, you aren’t alone. It simply means a virus that takes control of your computer, encrypts your files, and then demands a ransom to free them. There’s no evidence that the people behind this attack will actually decrypt your files if you pay up. But that probably won’t stop some desperate victims from paying anyway.
The ‘Petya’ attack, as it’s called, isn’t the first such virus to make headlines worldwide. Nor, despite all the chaos it caused this week, is it the worst.
It will take time to get an estimate of how much damage Petya will cause to the global economy. But, luckily, it doesn’t seem to be as dangerous as the ‘Wannacry’ ransomware that struck earlier this year.
That attack is estimated to have cost the global economy billions of dollars, according to CBS in the US. And it might have cost much more, if not for the ‘kill switch’ found in its code. The breakthrough was made by a 22-year old cybersecurity researcher in the UK. Understandably, he preferred his real name not be made public.
Wannacry was capable of trawling the internet for email addresses to send itself to. Petya is limited to sending itself to the contacts of its current victims. It spreads quickly within organisations. But it has a harder time spreading to new ones.
Despite that, Petya spread with frightening speed. From Ukraine and Russia, in days it was in Europe, America, and here in Australia.
Wannacry and Petya were much more dangerous than average. Ransomware attacks in 2016 were estimated to cost the global economy US$1.5 billion. So why have 2017’s attacks been worse?
Perhaps because hackers have been stealing military tech instead of building their own. Wannacry was built out of a stolen NSA tool known as ‘EternalBlue’.
Why design your own malicious software? Governments are spending millions developing it for you!
And Australia’s military will soon be getting its own information warfare unit. As reported by ABC News:
‘It will be tasked with defending Australian military targets from cyber attacks and preparing to launch its own assaults on foreign forces.’
Perhaps these keyboard soldiers will help protect us. But it’s that second task you should be concerned about. If your taxpayer dollars are spent developing cyber weapons, will it really make the internet safer? Or like the NSA’s ‘EternalBlue’, are we destined to fall victim to a weapon our own taxes funded?
What can you do to avoid a cyberattack?
The internet can be a dangerous place. But so can any other part of the world.
It’s all about knowing how to act safely.
If stranger knocks on your door in the middle of the night, you probably wouldn’t let them walk right in.
The internet is no different.
If you receive an email with attachments you aren’t expecting, don’t open them. Call the sender and ask what it is first. And if you get an email with attachments from someone you don’t recognise, I wouldn’t open it at all.
If you’re using a Windows operating system, turn on your automatic updates. Some of the most vulnerable to the Wannacry attack were people with outdated Windows operating systems. Cybersecurity experts believe the same may be the case with Petya and future ransomware attacks.
And if you aren’t using an antivirus program, get one.
What does this mean for investors?
Wannacry is estimated to have cost the global economy billions of dollars. Governments and companies around the world are learning that cyber security is an essential investment.
Even those who don’t see their business partially or fully shut down, or lose vital files, will still have to pay. The rising cost of cybersecurity consultants, staff, and software are becoming part of doing business in the modern world.
The only people benefiting from the rapid growth in ransomware attacks (aside from the criminals themselves) are those in the cybersecurity industry. Cybersecurity stocks around the world saw sharp growth after the Wannacry attack. It seems likely they could do the same in the wake of Petya, and any future attacks.
Port Phillip Publishing’s resident technology expert, Sam Volkering, has covered this topic in his investment advisories more than once. Cyber security stocks have been among his most successful recommendations so far. And with the worlds’ eyes drawn to cyber security by attacks like Wannacry and Petya, probably not for the last time.
You’ll be hearing a lot more from Sam in Money Morning next week.
This week in Money Morning
Money Morning began the week in Europe. Two Italian banks will be forced to close their doors, as Italy’s rough road to recovery continues. Greg expected plenty of headlines this week about European instability. But if you’re watching Europe for the source of the next crash, you may be looking in the wrong place. Greg argues that the next crash will come from somewhere completely unexpected. Not from the potential threats that so many people are already watching.
In fact, Greg doesn’t think that a crash is likely to happen at all. Not soon, anyway. To read why — and for Greg’s assessment of the sector of stocks that should continue to do well as long as interest rates are low — you can read Monday’s Money Morning, here.
A seemingly ‘fat finger’ mistake with gold futures in early UK trading sent gold plunging this week. Greg wrote on Tuesday about the possibility that it was intentional manipulation of the market. He thinks it’s unlikely. Dedicated gold bugs may disagree. But Greg believes you can better invest in gold if you step back from emotion about the yellow metal.
Greg discussed the support levels for gold after this fall, and whether it will continue. It all depends on the US dollar and the euro, according to Greg’s analysis. To read why, click here.
In Wednesday’s Money Morning, Greg looked at three charts that could indicate how the rest of 2017 will play out. If Greg’s right, the NASDAQ will see increased volatility. He argues that it’s topping out ahead of a decline.
But this isn’t the crash many have been waiting for. Corrections like Greg predicts are necessary for rising markets. But Greg believes Australia could be insulated from a larger shock. Find out why in Greg’s article, here.
On Thursday Sam looked at Mexico’s recent legalisation of medical marijuana products, and what it could mean for ‘green’ investors worldwide. It’s an encouraging change in direction for Mexico. It will mean badly needed medicine getting to many patients. As well as a drop in many types of crime. For investors, once again, a new industry will be built from the ground up.
Australians recently had the same chance to profit from the birth of an entirely new medical marijuana industry. If you’re a subscriber to Sam’s Australian Small-Cap Investigator, you’ll likely have brought in some of those profits yourself. If not, it isn’t too late. You can read more about Sam’s recommendations in this booming new industry here.
Mexico’s recent changed policy will take time to settle into the booming legal trade. Sam’s already turning his eyes to the next possible countries to legalise marijuana. To read his insights on the next opportunity, you can find Thursday’s Money Morning here.
Friday saw more good news for legal marijuana investors, this time from the US. But Sam’s main focus was on a failure of energy policy that’s costing Australian investors and retail customers. It could even cost lives before it’s over. You can read Sam’s assessment of Australia’s energy markets here.
That’s all from us at Money Morning HQ this week. Be careful on the internet this weekend. Assuming your computer doesn’t fall victim to Petya, we’ll see you on Monday!
Editor, Money Weekend