Here’s everything you need to know about the WannaCry attacks

Last Friday, a ransomware attack hit Europe. As The Verge reports, in just short 24 hours, it was discovered that the attack managed to affect computers at UK hospitals, a number of utilities in Spain and even Russia’s interior ministry. That day, the WannaCry ransomware locked thousands of PCs and prevented thousands of users from accessing their data. But how it does it do that? You’re probably wondering right about now…

Well, ransomware is a malware that encrypts important files on your device, locks you out of your device. If you fail to pay the ransom, the criminals will delete every file (and the system) on your computer or smartphone.

In this case, attackers are demanding $300 (in Bitcoins); and if that ransom isn’t paid in 72 hours, the price goes up. The NY Times estimates that the attackers could make more than $1 billion, if all the ransoms are paid.

What’s the current situation?

During the weekend, WannaCry managed to spread across 150 countries, impacting more than 10,000 companies and 300,000 users in the process, according to European authorities. Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol (the biggest law enforcement agency in EU) told the BBC that the attack is “unprecedented in its scale.”

As the Bleeping Computer reports, the malware has already inspired other ransomware developers to create their version of the software and try to extort money from innocent users from around the web. At the moment, there are at least five different WannaCry knockoffs, but the number is probably going to grow very quickly in the next couple of weeks.

Where did WannaCry come from?

Honestly, security experts still have no idea who actually deployed the ransomware in the first place. They are still not completely sure when it was deployed for that matter, it was only discovered on May 12th. Nevertheless, it still comes with an amazing backstory.

You see, according to the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, WannaCry ransomware makes use of a exploit called EnternalBlue, developed by the NSA. The exploit was made public back in April of this year, when it was published online by the Shadow Brokers, a cyber-crime group with ties to Russia. Although, some suspect that a state-sponsored hacking group from North Korea might be responsible. The debate is still on.

Microsoft actually released a patch for their OS which targeted the vulnerability caused by the leaked software. If you are a Windows user, you should download it immediately. But as the success of all of the WannaCry attacks has shown, only a handful of people really took advantage of that patch.

Is there any defense against WannaCry?

We’ve already mentioned that Microsoft has released a patch for Windows 10, but even if you’re using an older version of the OS, like Windows XP, the company has got you covered as well. Even though these operating systems have long passed their support timeline.

Of course, there are a couple of basic things you should do to protect your device from ransomware. So in order to help you with that, we’ve also included the list of six security tips from the NoMoreRansom website (just a quick side note — tips are edited for length):

  1. If you come across a problem, disconnect your device from the Internet immediately to avoid any additional problems.
  2. Make a backup of your PC and store it either in the cloud or an external hard drive that’s not connected to your PC.
  3. Use antivirus software that will provide an additional layer of defense to your computer.
  4. Make sure all of your automatic updates are enabled in order to keep your OS up-to-date at all times.
  5. Remember any account can be breached, so don’t click email attachments from unknown sources or with strange file extensions.
  6. Go to your Windows settings and enable the “show file extensions” option, because it will help you spot potentially malicious files like: .vbs, .scr. and .exe

Finally, Are Mac users completely safe?

Exclusively for WannaCry, Mac users are absolutely safe. This is only because Windows is the primary target of these attacks. But unfortunately for all the Apple lovers out there — Mac malware has been growing at an alarming speed in the last couple of years — this of course, includes ransomware.

Actually, a recent McAfee report revealed that Mac malware grew by a staggering 744% in 2016 alone. While most of it was adware, which may be more a nuisance than an actual threat, not all of it was. For instance, in February, a Word Macro created especially for Mac was capable of logging everything from webcam capture to key presses.

So even though Mac malware still remains a relatively rare occurrence, don’t let the mass media fool you — in 2017, you and your data can’t be safe without the proper security tools.

We’ve developed AlterEgo to protect your personal data. It generates full virtual identities with: email addresses, passwords, usernames or any credential you need for subscriptions, so you don’t expose your personal data.

Try AlterEgo here, it’s free.

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