The Latest Ransomware Attack and You

It’s perhaps fitting that as we head into an era of a redesigned web and blog, we are wrapping up our original run of reporting with the kind of news that we have to post here all too often: Alerts or backgrounders on new malware, system breaches, and more recently, ransomware attacks.

One of the largest ever ransomware attacks — certainly in terms of geographical span — happened just last week, around the time our last newsletters were going out.

Called “WannaCry,” CNNMoney has a terrific overview of it, and its origins in an unauthorized release of NSA Hacking Tools — which were themselves unauthorized, and took advantage of “back doors” built into Windows software. The big was on track to be “one of the biggest ransomware attacks ever,” affecting thousands of computer systems in hundreds of countries:

“Friday’s attack largely hit businesses and large organizations: UK hospitals, a Spanish telecom, FedEx, the Russian Interior Ministry. But how much do individuals need to worry about their personal computers being targeted? Ransomware is a type of malicious software that takes over a computer and locks the user out, preventing them from accessing any files until they pay money. This particular program, called WannaCry, asks for about $300, though the price increases over time.

“WannaCry takes advantage of a Windows flaw discovered by the NSA and made public by hackers in April. Microsoft (MSFTTech30) did release a patch for the vulnerability in March. But computers and networks that didn’t update their systems were still at risk.”

And while last Friday a “kill switch” was found to stop the spread of the virus, “a hacker could rewrite the code to omit the kill switch and start trying to infect new machines with a new version of it.”

Perhaps this very week. Or next.

Marketwatch came out with a handy list on how to protect yourself, and your business, against the next inevitable attack:

1. Update, update, update. If your computer runs Windows, make sure your operating system is updated. In March, Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability that the ransomware worm targeted, so if you haven’t updated since then you may be at risk.

2. Back up your data. If you have your most important data saved on a separate system, then you won’t be at risk of losing all your photos and data files if you get infected. The best options are an external hard drive that you update regularly and is not connected to the internet, or a cloud-storage service, such as Google Drive, Apple iCloud or Microsoft OneCloud.

3. Be careful what you open. Especially now, be wary of any unsolicited emails asking you to click on a link, or to download a file. If it looks weird, or the site is suspicious, don’t click it.

4. Use antivirus software. While they’re not always guaranteed to catch every virus, this is literally the job they’re built for. Scans can block viruses from being downloaded, and prevent malware from being installed.

On that note, we will see you soon –in one format or another.  And by way of tips for businesses, we might add that you payment terminals should be kept separate from the rest of the internet, whenever possible. In other words, try not to use the same machines that surf the web.

We will surf your way soon — as we keep working on our brand new look!

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