We've been warning you for quite some time that ransomware attacks are nasty. This, of course, is when cybercriminals encrypt important files on your gadget and demand a ransom to give you access to them again.
In most cases, the victim clicks on a malicious link, which leads to their device being infected. However, the largest known attack to date is happening right now worldwide, and you don't even have to click a link to be impacted.
What you need to know about the world's largest ransomware attack
What we're talking about is a massive ransomware attack dubbed WannaCry, or WanaCrypt0r 2.0. It started spreading Friday, May 12 and has already locked computer systems in at least 150 countries worldwide. The attack has targeted private companies and public organizations, but it's spreading so fast no one is safe.
As we said earlier, typically a ransomware victim clicks a malicious link before their gadget is infected. This attack is different. It is being deployed via a worm and spreads itself between vulnerable computers connected to the same network.
Once a gadget is infected with WannaCry, its files are encrypted and a ransom note appears on the screen. The criminal behind the attack is demanding $300 in Bitcoin payments to decrypt the victim's device. Following is an example of what the ransom note looks like:
Image: Example of WannaCry ransom note.
This attack has actually endangered the lives of people. Hospitals in England were victimized by WannaCry ransomware Friday and had to turn patients scheduled for surgery away and cancel appointments.
How to protect yourself from WannaCry ransomware
Reports say the criminals behind WannaCry ransomware are exploiting the Eternal Blue flaw in Windows operating systems. This flaw is an NSA tool leaked by Shadow Brokers earlier this year.
Microsoft knew of this vulnerability months ago and sent a patch for it in an update back in March. So it is CRITICAL to make sure your Windows OS is up to date.
Most Windows machines are set to download and install updates automatically by default. If you haven't changed your automatic update settings then you should be fine.
But if you want to check, here's how:
On Windows 10, click Start (Windows logo), choose "Settings," select "Update & Security," then on the "Windows Update" section, click on "Advanced Options." (Note: the "Windows Update" section is also handy for showing you updates that are currently being downloaded or applied.) Under "Advanced Options," just make sure the drop down box is set to "Automatic."
If you have an older Vista or Windows 7 system, check out our tips on how to set up and check Windows Updates.
Backing up your critical data is also an important safety precaution in the fight against ransomware. It's the best way to recover encrypted files without paying a ransom.
We recommend using our sponsor, IDrive. You can backup all your PCs, Macs and mobile devices into ONE account for one low cost! Click here to receive a special discount of 50 percent.