Keeping up with cyber security

Updating our operating systems regularly could have protected many people from WannaCry, says this cyber security enthusiast.

Phang Jing Lin

Published: 17 May 2017, 5:58 PM

Recently, a global cyber attack hit many places around the world, leaving people fearing that they might be the next victim.

WannaCry is a ransomware that locks the files on your computer, so you cannot access them until you pay, in this case, bitcoins. The worm has spread extensively to over 150 countries in just five days, and is a top concern among governments around the world.

This ongoing global attack highlights the importance of cyber security, and the passion for increasing youths’ awareness of cyber security was exactly what brought the NUS Greyhats together.

The team, which has 15 members now, was formed in 2013, when a group of eight like-minded friends from the National University of Singapore (NUS) decided to set up an interest group for those passionate about computer and information security.

They wanted to raise cyber security awareness, increase the technical proficiency and inculcate a security-first mindset among students, said Yeo Quan Yang, the co-founder of NUS Greyhats.

The 26-year-old, who is now working as a security engineer at Apple, explained how the group started small: “NUS Greyhats was only known within our faculty, NUS Computing, then we slowly grew from there.”

“During my freshmen year, it occurred to me that many of my fellow schoolmates did not place much (importance) in the security and privacy of information,” he added.

The group’s regular activities include “Security Wednesdays”, where speakers from the information security industry are invited to share their experience and knowledge on the last Wednesday of each month. Occasionally, they organise workshops where members teach IT skills to other students in NUS.

To build their reputation, Quan Yang and his team went out to give talks and participated in competitions, both locally and internationally.

Quan Yang (second from left) has won the Singapore Cyber Conquest for the past three years. The competition is a computer and network security challenge.  PHOTO CREDIT: YEO QUAN YANG 

“Our participation served as good practice for our members to hone technical skills and a good chance to reach out to other international teams. Last year, we ranked 156 out of 12,000 teams [based on all the cyber security competitions participated over the year],” he added.

“[People] always talk about the lack of talent in the cyber security industry and we already recognised that a long time ago. At NUS Greyhats, we hope that our workshops and events would help bridge this gap and cultivate passion in students, to better prepare them for the industry,” said Quan Yang.

So, what does he feel about the recent WannaCry global attack?

“In this scenario, by updating their operating system regularly and promptly, most of them would have been safe from the [ransomware] attack,” replied Quan Yang.

He also provided some tips for those who want to prevent or recover from a cyber attack (see below).

CTF 101, an annual hands-on workshop to teach participants skills in the system and web security areas, had 200 people participating last year.  PHOTO CREDIT: YEO QUAN YANG


The soft-spoken young man, who is now based in San Francisco, admitted it was not easy juggling the NUS Greyhats with his studies.
Despite being involved in NUS Greyhats, he still achieved the Dean’s List for four semesters.  PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/LAU AI XUAN

He said: “I had to sacrifice something. There was some point in university when I was lacking sleep, I just slept four to five hours a day.”

For his achievements in IT, Quan Yang was recently awarded the IT Leader Awards (IT Youth) by Singapore Computer Society.

Quan Yang is now busy planning for the second Capture-The-Flag event later this year, where teams from universities and polytechnics will compete to be the top student hacker.

“We wish to build a community of information security enthusiasts in Singapore. We’re hoping that the event will help attract and garner passion from other academic institutions and schools all over Singapore,” he said.


Quan Yang’s basic tips to prevent or recover from a cyber attack:

1. Update your operating system and software regularly.

2. Install an antivirus software on your system.

3. Do not open or download random files, attachments or links in emails or messaging applications. Only download files you were expecting to receive. Scan them with an antivirus before opening.

4. Maintain a regular back up of your files and keep them separately on a different disk drive that is not connected to your computer by default. This can help you recover from a ransomware attack or even a simple computer failure.

5. Do not use USB drives that have been used on public devices or from unknown sources.

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