The White House has named North Korea as the culprit behind May’s WannaCry hack that affected more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries.
The WannaCry ransomware relied on a flaw in Windows code to infect and then paralyze computers, which the hackers promised to unlock for payment in bitcoin. If you run a PC, especially an older one that uses an operating system that Microsoft no longer regularly updates, it’s key to make sure you have a patch for this flaw.
Here’s what to do to protect yourself.
If you have automatic updates enabled on your computer, you will have gotten the patch in March along with subsequent updates Microsoft has issued. Patches are add-on pieces of computer code that upgrade and improve software, in this case the Windows operating system.
If you don’t have automatic updates enabled on your computer (and you should), you can go to the Microsoft website and find the proper patch to download. Once it’s downloaded, the update file will walk you through the install process.
First, you need to know what version of Windows you are running to get the correct patch. Microsoft’s web site tells you where to look to verify what version you have. For Windows 10 users, go to the Start button, type in “About Your PC” and select that, then look under PC for the version, edition and system type (32-bit or 64-bit version).
Reminder: It’s crucial to allow computers to automatically patch themselves when patches are issued. In the WannaCry attack, machines that are regularly updated were much less at risk than those that weren’t.
Don’t use pirated software
One reason many security researchers think eastern Europe and Asia may have been hit harder than other areas is because there’s a higher incidence of the use of pirated (i.e. unofficial, non-registered) software in those regions. If you’re not running a legal, official copy of Windows you can’t register it, which means Microsoft can’t send you updates about security patches. Free software can end up costing you a lot.
The WannaCry ransomware only attacked unpatched computers running older versions of the Windows operating system. But this doesn’t mean those whose computers run on Apple or Linux code should feel smug. They, too, should regularly update with software patches as they’re issued.
If you’re not on a work network that already has security, consider installing some form of security program on your computer. There are many possibilities and all provide at least some protection, even if it’s only reminders to be cautious when downloading potentially infected files.
Backup your system fully and on a regular basis. That way even if you’re hit with ransomware you’ve got all your files protected elsewhere. Note this means that the backup can’t be on your computer but should be in the cloud or on an external hard drive.
Don’t grumble when your system administrator at work takes the network down periodically to update systems, which usually includes installing new and often critical software patches. It’s for your protection.
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