Ransomware is a type of malicious software that takes over a computer and locks the user out, preventing them from accessing any files until they pay money. Because numerous computers impacted run older Windows systems like XP, Microsoft issued a rare patch for XP, which it had stopped updating more than three years ago. Apparently, that's a reference to one of the code names used for a group of hacking tools purportedly collected by the U.S. National Security and then subsequently leaked by a group calling itself "The Shadow Brokers".
The ransomware attack exploits a vulnerability in older Windows OS, including Windows 8, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.
While security experts have warned for years that a massive global cyberattack was possible. Security experts believe that the NSA might have tipped off Microsoft about the flaw. WannaCry demonstrated how sophisticated these attacks have become. The company rates the update as "critical" for supported Windows releases. Organizations still using any of the unsupported platforms will get regular security updates only if they pay enormous fees for "custom support". Ransomware puts a new spin on that threat, and it's a growth industry. And while Microsoft had already released a security update to patch the vulnerability one month earlier, the sequence of events fed speculation that the NSA hadn't told the US tech giant about the security risk until after it had been stolen.
Britain's National Cyber Security Centre joined others in warning of more cases of "ransomware" attacks this week, predicting that the problem could be "at a significant scale" because some infected machines have not yet been detected and existing infections can spread within networks.
But it would still affect computers that did not have their software updated.
If your computer is affected, Microsoft has made the MS17-010 patch available for download.
The ransomware reportedly hit hundreds of thousands of computers in over 150 countries including Malaysia.
Don't click on a link on a webpage, in an email, or in a chat message unless you absolutely trust the page or sender. Phishing emails are the primary way WannaCry ended up on corporate networks. Microsoft also recommends running its free anti-virus software for Windows. "We have already seen variants of this that address the weakness in the first version", Rob Holmes, vice president at security company Proofpoint, told VICE News. Most importantly, take back-ups.
"You can't be held to ransom if you've got the data somewhere else, ' it says".
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