How you can protect yourself against the ransomware attack
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The cyberattack threat just became very real this weekend, with ransomware dubbed “WannaCry” affecting PCs and laptops in more than 150 countries.
An estimated 200,000 computers globally were crippled on Friday itself, in the first wave of attacks, and the real impact will become evident as a new work week begins. Several potentially affected computers could be waiting to be discovered, when switched on by unsuspecting users. The malware only attacks PCs running Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems.
This ransomware, also known as malware, spreads as a worm. All it needs is for one computer on any network to be infected, for the attack to spread to other linked computers. Once the malware installs on a system, the user pretty much gets locked out and the hacker demands anywhere between $300 to $600 to unlock the system and allow the user access. This is basically the ransom that you pay, to get access to your data.
Microsoft is actively rolling out patches for vulnerable operating systems, despite having officially stopped supporting them, as far back as the year 2014. If similar vulnerabilities are found in PCs running Windows 10, 8 and 7, these systems can also be infected by the ransomware virus—this can happen if the PC doesn’t have the patch released in March installed.
But what is ransomware? It is essentially a malware that locks your computer, and with it your data and files, and then demands a payment for unlocking your files. In the case of WannaCry, this malware is believed to have been based on a software developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA). The attack that targeted the National Health Service in the UK over the weekend demanded $300 for unlocking each computer.
Can you protect yourself against a ransomware attack? The answer is yes, but to an extent. First, if you or your organization are still using PCs running the dated Windows XP software, it may be time to catch up with the more recent Windows 10 software, which is more secure and gets updated much more actively to protect against current and potential attacks.
Second, whatever system you are running, it is important to keep the software completely up to date. If you end up in a situation where your PC has been infected by the malware, you may try to access the task manager (CTRL+ALT+DEL keys, in this sequence) and closing down the offensive process and running an anti-malware scan (Windows Defender is pre-installed on Windows PCs).