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Top 5 security lessons ransomware teaches us the hard way

Top 5 security lessons ransomware teaches us the hard way
© Antonio Guillem | Dreamstime.com

If you're a regular Kim Komando Show listener or Komando.com reader, you know that Kim has been warning you about online security dangers for years. Her warnings aren't for frivolous annoyances.

They are real dangers. There are ransomware attacks, for instance, where hackers threaten to erase everything on your computer unless you pay them. Or they threaten to blackmail you with compromising information, photos or videos.

Those real-life dangers became all too clear when the WannaCry attack affected the lives of millions of people in 150 countries. It's thought that more than 200,000 computers have been affected so far. That means hackers locked up computers, so hospitals, banks, financial companies and more could not access your information.

Hospital computer systems in the U.K. were shut down for hours. Worse, many life-saving medical apparatuses that run on Windows also shut down. WannaCry has caused $8 billion in damage and counting.

You may have heard that a cybersecurity researcher accidentally found a kill switch to turn off WannaCry. He did, but hackers have since found ways to work around that. In other words, WannaCry is still a very real threat.

Keep reading for five things you must do now to protect yourself from ransomware. But, first, a brief overview of ransomware.

A ransomware attack occurs when hackers encrypt your computer, which means they scramble your data and make it almost impossible to unlock.

Typically with ransomware, hackers demand money. If you don't pay it, they'll increase the amount you need to pay.

Note: The FBI has warned people not to pay ransom to hackers. If you do, they may not unlock your computer and they may just end up demanding more money.

Here are five things you must do:

1. Backup all your devices

We told you that the FBI and many cybersecurity companies recommend that you do NOT pay ransom to hackers. So, what do you do?

Simply, backup your computer. If you're the victim of a ransomware attack, you can revert your computer to a backed-up version when the attack had not occurred.

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2. Make sure Windows is up-to-date

The WannaCry ransomware attack targeted computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system. Many computers and devices, including life-saving medical equipment, run on old versions of Windows.

That is why the attack has been so widespread. Many systems are rarely updated, making them vulnerable to attacks.

You do not have to be a victim of WannaCry. Make sure you are running the most up-to-date version of Windows.

On Windows 10: Start button >> Settings >> Update & Security >> Check for Updates

3. Don't ignore Windows patches

Microsoft issues patches, or security fixes, for Windows every Tuesday. It's called Update Tuesday.

Be sure to keep reading Happening Now for Windows patches. The good news is, with Windows 10, many security patches will be automatically updated when you restart your computer. But, for emergency patches, you may need to do the updating yourself.

If you receive an alert from Microsoft to install a security patch, and you're 100 percent sure it's coming from Microsoft, install the patch.

In March, Microsoft issued a patch for WannaCry (sometimes called WannaCrypt). It did so even for older versions of Windows like Windows XP that are no longer supported.

4. Run Windows Defender

Do you run Windows Defender? It's Microsoft's built-in security system. Defender was updated earlier this month to find WannaCry.

Here's how to run Windows Defender: Start button >> Settings >> Update & Security >> Windows Defender >> make sure Real-Time Protection is turned on.

5. Install anti-malware security

Microsoft issued a stern warning to Windows users about WannaCry. In short, install a reputable online security system onto all your PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Here's what Microsoft recommends on its TechNet blog: As an additional “defense-in-depth” measure, keep up-to-date anti-malware software installed on your machines. Customers running anti-malware software from any number of security companies can confirm with their provider that they are protected.

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