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Firms must heed our attack alerts, warns Belfast cyber expert


Constant battle: Jonny Milliken

Constant battle: Jonny Milliken

Constant battle: Jonny Milliken

More needs to be done to spread warnings of potentially devastating cyber attacks, a Belfast man who was among the first to spot last week's global computer attack has said.

Jonny Milliken works on the front line in the war against cyber terrorists. The 31-year-old is employed by Alert Logic at the US company's Belfast base. He and his team spotted last week's WannaCry ransomware attack on the horizon back in mid-April.

It later swept the globe, infecting over 300,000 computers in 150 countries. Health trusts in England and Wales were brought to their knees, with the resulting impact expected to cost billions of pounds.

On spotting the early warning signs of the attack, Mr Milliken and his team downed tools on other projects and worked for 36 hours straight - alongside engineers at the company's American sites - to identify the exact nature of the threat and how to stop it.

They identified hacking techniques that could potentially put thousands of organisations' data at risk and developed security protocols to form an effective defence.

Alert Logic - along with others which had detected the threat - put out general alerts warning people of the dangers to their systems and the danger the attack posed. But the warnings went unheeded and the attack was devastating.

"It's frustrating," Mr Milliken told the Belfast Telegraph. "Had people taken the steps, it could have been avoided."

He described his work as like plugging holes in a boat with constant leaks springing up once all appears water tight.

"People get fatigued with so many warnings or don't realise their exposure to them," he said.

"There can be people that hear outdated systems are the target and think it doesn't affect them. But then they run servers which are vulnerable and that's the access point for the attack and it spreads from there and can be difficult to stop."

While the attack's biggest impact may be behind us, for Mr Milliken it's back to the coalface and working to identify the next threat on the horizon.

"It's neverending," he said. "It can be a lucrative career for those on the malicious side of the fence and it is a constant battle for us to stop them."

Alert Logic provides an out-sourced 'eye in the sky' to help take the load off companies to prevent cyber attacks. Mr Milliken says more needs to be done to re-enforce the message that attacks could be imminent and people and organisations need to react to protect themselves.

Belfast Telegraph