How You Can Stop the WannaCry Ransomware (and Make a Profit in the Process)
This past weekend, headlines turned once again to the fastest-growing industry in the world...
For those who are not in the know, that’s a sophisticated new kind of computer virus. Ransomware locks victims out of their own computers by encrypting infected files. The attacker then demands electronic ransom payments to decrypt the files.
Forget lithium... Forget virtual reality or augmented reality... Forget autonomous driving or any other sector that’s booming and grabbing financial headlines over the past couple of years. Even bitcoin can’t keep up with this market’s growth... though bitcoin is the preferred means of payment.
None of those compare to the growth we’ve seen in ransomware.
In 2015, there were 3.8 million ransomware attacks.
In 2016, there were 637 million ransomware attacks.
That’s a 16,632% increase over 2015!
And the biggest driver of growth is, of course, money. Hackers pocketed as much as $209 million in ransom in just the first quarter of 2016.
Over the weekend, the “WannaCry” ransomware spread to 150 countries and infected more than 300,000 computers, mainly in schools, hospitals, corporations and other institutions. The attackers claim that they will unlock an infected computer in exchange for $300 in bitcoin.
WannaCry represents a new form of ransomware in a black-market industry which is already on the rise.
The last I saw, the hackers had made an estimated $50,000. Not an enormous payday, but a payday nonetheless. And that amount is expected to grow.
We’re talking about scale here. The hackers’ goal is to cast a wide net. The same is true of phishing attacks, Nigerian prince email scams and other common cybercrimes.
Let’s say just a third of those computers infected by WannaCry coughed up the $300... That’s a $30 million payday.
Let’s say only a tenth - a mere 30,000 - pay to have their computers unlocked... That’s still a $9 million payday.
And as I’ve written here before, hackers rely on automation just like every other industry. WannaCry is the first large-scale automated ransomware attack... which tells us that a new trend is on the horizon.
Individuals - and investors - should sit up and take notice.
You’re Still the Problem
Over the last several years, I’ve written a lot about the need for increased cybersecurity... especially as the world economy becomes more and more connected.
The rise of e-commerce is butchering brick-and-mortar retailers left and right... And the rise of cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing how we store and share information. All of these technologies have big benefits... but also potentially big security vulnerabilities.
I’ve written before that you - the individual - are the biggest part of the problem.
You may have noticed that WannaCry hit a lot of countries very hard... but not the U.S.
That’s because WannaCry targeted computers running on old, outdated versions of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows software.
The worm most notably exploited the Windows XP operating system... which Microsoft stopped supporting in 2014. The last release was April 2008.
That’s almost a decade ago.
I know Windows Vista and Windows 7 weren’t the most popular releases... but a decade in the digital world is like 1,000 years in real time.
You want to know how outdated Windows XP is? It’s the No. 1 operating platform in North Korea.
Microsoft released a patch to stop WannaCry almost two months ago... But this was largely ignored.
Surging Stocks Boosted by Headline News
WannaCry is just one piece of the meteoric rise in cyberattacks.
I’ve warned that distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are also seeing a significant increase. DDoS attacks use a network of infected computers to overwhelm the defenses of the target machine. And we all know that large-scale hacks are on the rise as well.
As the world shifts further into the digital realm, cybersecurity needs to be an essential piece of your personal life - as well as your portfolio.
And you shouldn’t pay attention to it only when a large-scale attack grabs headlines.
Cybersecurity is a year-round business. And it can be quite profitable, too. My subscribers have closed out several triple-digit gains over the past year on cybersecurity plays. These headline events simply give our shares extra boosts...
On Monday, The PureFunds ISE Cyber Security ETF (Nasdaq: HACK) rose more than 3%. That was par for the course for cybersecurity stocks.
In 2017, the cybersecurity ETF is up nearly 17%. That’s better than the Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq.
Individual players like Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC) and Imperva (Nasdaq: IMPV) are up 34% and 28%, respectively. And one of the top portfolio positions in my VIPER Alert service, Qualys (Nasdaq: QLYS), has gained nearly 38% in 2017.
Cybersecurity is more crucial to us each day... for not only individuals or companies, but also governments. And there are companies in the cybersecurity industry that focus on each of those levels, from personal antivirus providers to Department of Defense contractors.
Business is booming for a lot of them. And there’s no sign of it slowing, particularly as new hacking weapons emerge. That means we need the best cybersecurity to protect ourselves. And it means the right cybersecurity stocks are essential to every investor’s portfolio.
Thoughts on this article? Leave a comment below.
Editor’s Note: At this time, it is unclear whether or not the WannaCry hackers will actually decrypt infected computers after receiving a ransom payment.
If you or someone close to you is a victim of WannaCry ransomware, the best course of action is to get help from an IT or cybersecurity professional immediately - not to pay the hackers.
Do not shut down or restart an infected computer, as this may help the virus spread.