Failing to update your software could make you 'WannaCry'

Monday, May 15, 2017

You’ve probably heard about the 22-year-old software engineer who became a hero by accidentally stopping the “WannaCry” cyber attack last week.

The man, who lives with his parents in England, spent $10.69 to register and activate a website buried in the “ransomware” software, causing it to shut down.

The virus infects computer networks, holding data hostage until someone sends $300 worth of bitcoin to the criminals distributing the code.

More than 200,000 victims in 150 countries struggled to deal with the infection Friday, and many more were expected to turn up today.

Carmaker Renault kept one of its French plants closed today as a precaution and about a fifth of Britains National Health Service hospitals and clinics had to cancel appointments and operations Friday.

You know when you’ve been attacked when your computer freezes up, popping open a red screen with the words “Oops, your files have been encrypted!” and demands $300 in online bitcoin payment initially, rising to $600 before it destroys files hours later.

There’s no guarantee, of course, forking over the cybercash will unlock your files.

Microsoft even went so far as issue software patches for older, unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP, which were involved in many of the attacks overseas.

Many computers in Asia were vulnerable because they were running such older operating systems or newer pirated ones that could not be updated.

A newer, more dangerous version is already on the loose, one without the “kill switch” the English software worker stumbled onto last weekend.

The answer, of course, is to make sure your operating system and security software is up to date, and never open an attachment which you have questions about, especially compressed or ZIP file.

If you’re on a network and encounter an “Ooops” screen, unplug your computer from the network and contact your information technology person immediately.

And, in preparation for the worse-case scenario, make sure your data is backed up in a secure location.

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