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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Laurence Pitt

The rise of cryptocurrency malware and ways to reduce risks

BY LAURENCE PITT

Being in the epicentre of exchange and commerce means that Singapore must rely on and keep up with technology. However, this dependence can make our Little Red Dot more vulnerable to cyberthreats and attacks than ever before.

As the Bitcoin rage continues to hit Singapore’s shores, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has imposed various safeguards to lower related risks. For example, it has implemented anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) requirements on the intermediaries that buy, sell or exchange virtual currencies. Additionally, it has also helped Singaporeans understand more about risks involved through advisories. These measures, in turn, have helped to boost the willingness towards the technology.

However, even though many of us are familiar with Bitcoin, the term Blockchain is another we should get acquainted with as it is the technology which underpins and enables not just bitcoin but all cryptocurrencies. More importantly, Singaporeans should understand how it can relate to cryptocurrency malware. Whilst bitcoin payments are non-reversible and verifiable, blockchain is the technology that stores information database that’s shared across many locations – each ledger record is public, but the details of the transaction are kept anonymous.

What this means is that cryptocurrency transactions have security and anonymity built in, but for the bad guys at least this is anonymity of which they can take full advantage when both taking and receiving payments.

Singapore’s openness to cryptocurrency could inevitably give rise to some pitfalls, especially since cybercriminals are following where the money goes. For example, they can make money through digital coinage by cryptojacking people’s computers to generate cryptocurrency for free, or use Ransomware to demand for payment in cryptocurrency due to its untraceable nature. China’s recent ban of cryptocurrency has also seen many Chinese crypto exchange operators and ICO projects migrate to Singapore due to its friendlier jurisdiction, inadvertently increasing the chances of detriment. In turn, this exposes organisations and individuals to the risk of being compromised by cryptojacking and attacked by Ransomware.

Even though Singapore’s cybersecurity infrastructure has been hailed as one of the most advanced, it still fell prey to the recent SingHealth breach. Whilst Singapore has implemented additional measures for critical government systems to detect threats following the attack, it is not a be-all and end-all solution. The breach underscores the importance of having good cyber hygiene practices – for organisations and individuals alike.

Fortunately, there are a few simple steps both parties can take to reduce risks.

By ensuring that you have the latest patches installed for your software and operating systems, especially Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle, you can reduce the chances of exploits which may allow an infection. This is especially since they have the largest user base and are more prone to being targeted.

With more than half of Singaporeans (54%) do not back up their computers, it makes it easy for Ransomware to encrypt their computers. However, getting your computer back up and running with a data-restore will prove to be simple with an up to date backup. In the same vein, it is critical for you to have the latest endpoint protection tools installed to help prevent infections from taking place.

It is also important to monitor and protect network traffic using a security strategy which is based on machine learning and behavioural analysis. The use of advanced threat protection leverages existing investments to provide earliest warning of threats based on understanding of the network and provides one-touch mitigation to remove threats fast.

For Windows computers, it is necessary to ensure that User Access Control is enabled and disable SMBV1.

Pop-ups are often used to spread malware as users click them accidentally. It is best to just prevent them from appearing in the first place by disabling them and using an ad-blocker.

Ultimately, if something seems too good to be true, if it looks slightly suspicious or if you were not expecting it, don’t click. Vigilance is the most effective way to avoid damage from malware.

It is critical to note that whilst Singapore’s cybersecurity standing in the region is high, organisations and individuals still need to operate on the basis that cyberattacks can and will happen. It is only with a prudent frame of mind that we can aim to prevent and reduce the damage of such attacks. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Laurence Pitt

Laurence Pitt

Laurence Pitt is the Global Security Director for Juniper Networks. He joined the firm in 2016 and is the security subject matter expert for the corporate marketing team. He has over twenty years of cyber security experience, having started out in systems design and moved through product management in areas from endpoint security to managed networks.

In his role at Juniper, Laurence articulates security clearly to business and across the business, creating and having conversations to provoke careful thought about process, policy and solutions. 

Prior to joining Juniper, Laurence was director of Global Solutions Marketing at Symantec. Previously he was product management director of Managed Security at NTT and Endpoint Computing at Novell.

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