As if last week's phishing scam wasn't concerning enough, the world was again targeted by hackers. But this latest outbreak is a greater risk to the security of your data and it comes in the form of a ransomware scheme known as WannaCry.
If you're unfamiliar with the term, ransomware is a hacking attack that encrypts the data on your computer and holds it hostage – demanding you pay a ransom in order to regain access to your machine. In the case of WannaCry, users see a screen alerting them to the infection, the amount they're required to pay to restore their data and a countdown clock. At 72 hours, the price to restore data increases and at the end of the countdown, if the ransom has not been paid, the files on the computer are destroyed.
The first wave of attacks hit in the UK on Friday, crippling their National Health Service and forcing some health care providers to turn patients away. It quickly spread to Spain, the US, Russia, China and Japan, affecting banks, telecommunications companies and even the shipping giant FedEx.
The attack was targeted at computers running Microsoft Windows and exploits a vulnerability discovered by the NSA. Microsoft released a software update in March to protect against the vulnerability, but if your computer is not regularly updated, it could still be at risk.
So how do you protect yourself from this (or future) ransomware attacks? Unfortunately, as cyber criminals evolve their hacking strategies and are always looking for new vulnerabilities to exploit, there's no way to be 100% sure you won't fall victim to a ransomware scheme. But we have several suggestions for protecting yourself and your data from such an attack.
- Regularly update your PC
As Microsoft released a patch in March for this particular vulnerability, anyone who regularly updates their machine is immune from the WannaCry attack. Microsoft even released an additional patch on Friday for older computers that run Windows XP (first released in 2001), Vista (2006), Windows 7 (2009) and Windows 8 (2012). But as threats evolve and new risks are exposed, it's important to keep on top of security updates to protect your data. Updating can also include replacing old machines that won't run the latest software.
- Perform routine backups of your data
Presently, there is no way to fix a computer that has been infected by WannaCry. But if you regularly back up your data, you can opt to wipe your machine and restore from backups. That's why we encourage businesses (and personal users) to create regular backups. And always be sure to disconnect external drives once the backup is done to ensure they are not also infected by ransomware.
- Install a ransom blocker
While some antivirus software includes ransom blockers, not all suites offer that protection yet. Look into the software you're using to see if it will protect you from known issues. If not, consider adding a dedicated anti-ransomware utility to your machine. There are some free solutions out there that will help protect you against potential threats.
- Do not pay ransoms
While we understand that there is a sense of panic associated with losing your data, paying a ransom to unlock your computer only encourages hackers to continue building new threats. You're handing your money to criminals. Rather than reacting after you've been infected, work on being proactive about protecting yourself from attacks.
- Be careful when clicking on ads, links and attachments in emails
While this particular threat does not appear to be spread through phishing emails, it's still important to be careful when you're clicking on any links. Many ransomware threats are spread by emails or ads.
The safety of your computer and data should always be a primary concern for your business. Keeping regular backups and utilizing automatic updates and protection software will go a long way toward protecting your information. And if you have any questions about guarding your systems, we're always here to help.