If you’ve been watching the technology headlines over the last couple of weeks you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d been overtaken by a Hollywood studio. First there’s one of the biggest ransomware attacks in history, then a 22-year-old hacker is the one to save the day, followed by tales of random businesses rewarding him for his efforts. It’ll all make for a good movie (possibly starring Daniel Craig) one day, but it’s all non-fiction. Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t cry for me Windows User
WannaCry is malicious software that takes advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows. Now, Microsoft actually fixed (or 'patched', as the security lingo goes) that vulnerability way back in March, so if you run automatic Windows updates you don’t need to worry in the least. Sadly, though, lots of people and companies don’t do automatic updates because they can mess with some of the older software they have installed and, in some cases, still depend on.
How wide? Worldwide!
At last count, WannaCry has shown up in more than 150 countries, and conservative estimates suggest hundreds of thousands of computers may have been affected. How would you know if you had it? Your computer would display a screen telling you your files have been locked and you need to pay $300 to get them unlocked. That’s what makes WannaCry a type of malware known as ransomware – the people behind it demand a ransom in exchange for returning your data (except, of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually do so once you’ve paid them).
How do you stay safe?
For starters, make sure your Windows is up to date, even (or rather, especially) if you’re using an older version like Windows 8, XP or Server 2003. Then, make sure you keep all of your really important information (whether that’s sensitive business or financial information, personal photos and videos, or anything else you’d be really sad to lose or that could cost you in one way or another) backed up on a hard drive that spends most of its time disconnected from the internet. Why disconnected? Because then the sorts of remote hackers who spread WannaCry won’t be able to access it. That way, if your computer ever does get ransomware you needn’t even entertain the idea of paying the ransom because all your important data is safe and sound and you can simply wipe the infected machine and start again.
Software like Norton Antivirus helps spot and stop malware before it’s too late, and keeping your computer’s software up to date is key, too. Lastly, as is always the case with online security, don’t open any link or download any file that looks suspicious. Not expecting that email with an attachment from your mom? Give her a call and check that she did, in fact, send you a picture of a 'Trojan Horse' before you double click it. Otherwise your tears could be very real indeed.