Ransomware: What you need to know about this new cyber threat

ransomware

Ransomware is a program that gets into your computer, either by clicking on the wrong thing or downloading the wrong thing, and then it holds something you need to ransom

What is WannaCry?

WannaCry, also known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, WannaCry and WCry, is a form of “ransomware” that locks up the files on your computer and encrypts them in a way that you cannot access them anymore.

Ransomware is a program that gets into your computer, either by clicking on the wrong thing or downloading the wrong thing, and then it holds something you need to ransom.

How does it work and spread?

The WannaCry program encrypts your files and demands payment in bitcoin in order to regain access.

Security experts warn there is no guarantee that access will be granted after payment. Some ransomware that encrypts files ups the stakes after a few days, demanding more money and threatening to delete files altogether.

There are different variants of what happens: Other forms of ransomware execute programs that can lock your computer entirely, only showing a message to make payment in order to log in again. There are some that create pop-ups that are difficult or impossible to close, rendering the machine difficult or impossible to use.

What is so special about WannaCry?

WannaCry is not just a ransomware program, it’s also a worm.

This means that it gets into your computer and looks for other computers to try and spread itself as far and wide as possible.

Ransomware has a habit of mutating and so it changes over time in order to find different ways to access computers or to get around patches (operating system updates that often include security updates). Many security firms are already aware of WannaCry in past forms and most are looking at this one right now to see how it might be stopped.

What can you do?

Several cyber security firms said WannaCry exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft and that Microsoft patched this in March. People don’t always install updates and patches on their computers and so this means vulnerabilities can remain open a lot longer and make things easier for hackers to get in.

Users should regularly back up their data and ensure that security updates are installed on your computer as soon as they are released. Up-to-date backups make it possible to restore files without paying a ransom.

Users should also look for malicious email messages that often masquerade as emails from companies or people you regularly interact with online. It’s important to avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in those messages, since they could unleash malware.

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