In what feels like an episode of Mr. Robot, the world’s computers have been held for ransom by an unknown group or individual, requiring payment in bitcoins to unlock them. Yeah, it sounds like a movie, but the ransomware, called “WannaCry” (a fitting name), has affected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.
The software took advantage of a vulnerability in Windows XP and locks the files on affected computers until the user pays a ransom in bitcoins, which are untraceable. The only other way to make the computer usable again is to wipe it. Windows has since released an update that fixes the flaw, but the damage has already been done world wide.
With an attack like this, it’s about time we looked at how well-prepared we are for another cyber-attack which experts caution could become increasingly common.
So how can we protect ourselves from a cyber-attack?
Make sure software is up-to-date
Sure, we all love to hit “remind me later” when the computer comes at us with that “update and restart” notification, but resist the urge. Having the latest update is what saved Windows users from WannaCry and as much as it’s inconvenient to have to restart your computer, the newest version of any software is usually the best (and safest).
Get anti-virus computer security
They really are your best defense against cyber-criminals. Think of it as an alarm system for your cyber-life. Most companies claim to protect your computer against anything from viruses and spyware to spam and identity theft.
Don’t pay the ransom
Just like in all those episodes of Hawaii Five-O, there’s no reason to believe a kidnapper will release their victim once they receive their ransom. The same goes for your files. If you pay the ransom on your computer not only are you losing your money, you’re making your computer more vulnerable to future attacks and labeling yourself as a target. Just don’t do it.
Back up your computer regularly
If this attack has proven anything, it’s that even the files on our own computers aren’t safe. Make sure you’re consistently backing-up your computer’s data, especially when it comes to important documents or files you use often. You’re much better off if wiping your computer doesn’t mean starting from scratch.
Only click if you trust the link
Always be cautious when clicking links on unknown websites or in emails. Read the whole address if you can see it and use your judgement to determine if it seems secure enough to click. You can also sometimes hover over it to get some indication of where it is taking you. If you’re at all unsure of the link’s safety, DON’T CLICK IT.
when in doubt, go through the website
If you get an email from a business or your bank in particular, be wary of the links enclosed, they may be a phishing scam. If an email or message seems suspicious, go through the official website rather than using the link. It may take more time, but it could save you.
Yes, you really should change your passwords
Your information is only as safe as the password protecting it. We know it’s a pain, but you’re your whole life will be far more secure if you change your passwords regularly. Also make sure you’re making those passwords smart ones. Most websites will give you prompts to make sure your password is long and diverse enough to be secure. You can use a password keeper to keep them straight or write them down on paper for good measure.
Monitor and educate your children
Make sure your kids know the risks associated with going online. We’re pretty good at addressing cyber-bullying and catfishing with kids, but make sure they understand security risks too. It’s also recommended that you keep your family computer in a common area of the house where you can keep an eye on what the little ones are getting into.