This past Saturday, May 15th, major companies, hospitals, and government agencies were hit by a cyberattack of “an unprecedented level” that “requires international investigation.” This ransomware virus is called “WannaCry” and acts to lock down all files on the infected computer and asks the administrator to pay a fee for the files to be released. The initial fee is $300 and the administrator is given 6 hours to pay and the fee goes up for every additional hour it takes to receive payment. So far, more than 75,000 companies have been identified as having been infected with the virus across several countries, including the U.S.
The ransomware is spread by affecting computers and networks that had not updated their systems with a security patch released in March 2017. Microsoft has responded by releasing a patch for computers running older operating systems including Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003.
U.K. based security architect, Kevin Beaumont, said “It is going to spread far and wide within the internal systems of organizations—this is turning into the biggest cybersecurity incident I’ve ever seen.”
How to Prevent Infection
The ransomware is scanning for computers that are missing this security patch and once it finds a computer that it can infect, it has the potential to infect other computers on the same wireless network. For example, if your laptop was infected and you are connected to a coffee shop guest network, you could infect other laptops connected to the network and from there it would spread to other companies. While implementing the security patch cannot help already infected machines, it can prevent a computer from becoming infected. In general, keeping up to date on patches will lessen your risk for ransomware and other viruses. (You can turn on auto updates. Here is how you can do that: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/306525/how-to-configure-and-use-automatic-updates-in-windows)
You can read more about the attack here: http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/12/technology/ransomware-attack-nsa-microsoft/