Cybersecurity

Ransomware Is Striking Computers All Over The World. Here's What You Can Do About It.

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In May of 2017, a massive malware attack that came to be known as "WannaCry" struck over 200,000 computers in more than 100 different countries. An infected machine had much of its crucial data encrypted, which the attackers would then decrypt (for a price). In the UK, WannaCry targeted the National Health Service — an especially terrifying prospect for anyone who has ever handed their personal data over to a physician or clinic. Ultimately, WannaCry was killed by a stroke of good luck, but not before the people who unleashed it made a quick $50,000. This isn't a time to rest easy. The danger is still out there, but fortunately, there's a lot that you can do to prevent it.

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Holding Hard Drives Hostage

This kind of attack is known as ransomware. The goal isn't to steal your data or put it to nefarious use, but to essentially lock it away until you pay the ransom to get it back. Though they have been around for about a decade, ransomware and ransomware-like attacks have been growing more common. Just a month after WannaCry, another attack that seemed to be ransomware hit computers, although some experts feel that Petya (AKA NotPetya, Nyetya, and GoldenEye) actually had a far more sinister goal. Although not especially effective at collecting ransom, it's proven very good at locking away data. It's entirely possible that chaos, not profit, was the goal.

Now for some even worse news (don't worry, we'll get to the answers in a moment). In recent years, hospitals have proven especially vulnerable to these and other types of attacks. Yeah, hospitals, as in the people you trust with your full name, your Social Security number, your date of birth, and pretty much everything else a person would need to steal your identity. They're a prime target for two reasons. First, the work they do is so important and so urgent that hospitals would be willing to pay up just to get it over with. The other issue is technology itself. A lot of hospitals haven't their software up-to-date. Now that there is a growing awareness of the problem, it's difficult for those organizations to attract quality IT specialists to manage their digital security. Yikes.

So You Think You Might Be Hacked

The spread of ransomware is a serious problem, but it's not hopeless. Banks, hospitals, airports, and other organizations that depend on accessing secure information are the prime targets, but you could be victimized as well. That's why everyone with a computer should take the following precautions against a malware attack.

1. Back everything up. Your data can't be held hostage if you've got an exact copy of it. Just like your family can't be held hostage if you've got a room full of their clones.

2. Update your software. Yes, it's annoying. Yes, you'll probably have to restart your computer. But it's worth it, since outmoded programs tend to leave backdoors open behind them. This applies doubly to your antivirus software.

3. Don't open suspicious files or emails. Come on, guys, just don't do it. That $40 million in the subject line is a lie. And if somebody claims to be writing you from Microsoft, just give Microsoft a call see what they think about it.

4. If it happens, disconnect. You can't ever get 100 percent security, so you might be afflicted anyway. If so, just unplug. Get that ransomware off the internet, and don't let it near any of your other devices. You've got to quarantine (and start uploading all of your backed up files).

Follow those instructions, and your data should be pretty safe — and if it isn't, then at least the damage will be minimal. And once you're done, you may want to look into a career in healthcare IT.

5. Be proactive, get a VPN. You don't even need to be hacked to find yourself in trouble. Even connecting to unsecured WiFi networks can put your personal data at risk. A virtual private network (VPN) keeps your online activity private and hides your real IP address from ISPs and prying eyes. After testing several VPN services, we recommend using IPVanish VPN. They have a strict zero-log policy and operate one of the most advanced VPN networks in the globe.

Curiosity is proud to partner with companies who will keep you safe online. When you purchase IPVanish via this link, you'll also help Curiosity earn affiliate commissions that support our work!

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Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Ransomware

Why Was the WannaCry Attack Such a Big Deal?

Nasty Petya Ransomware Spreading Fast

Ransomware As Fast As Possible

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