What is WannaCry, what are ransomware viruses and will my personal computer be affected by the widespread online attack? We take a closer look at this crippling virus.
If you’ve heard of WannaCry ransomware, that’s likely because it famously took down 47 NHS trusts and over 200,000 organisations across 150 countries. What you might not be so aware of is the fact that this attack could personally affect you too.
The problem here is that, as the name suggests, this virus is all about holding your computer files to ransom for payment. That means, if you’re affected there may be a choice between spending a huge chunk of cash or losing lots of personal information.
So are you personally at risk? How can you stay safe against WannaCry or detect if it's infected your PC? And what is all this ransomware lark all about anyway?
What is WannaCry ransomware?
First up, let’s define ransomware. This is software that makes its way onto your computer via a download or link click and encrypts your files so you can’t access them any longer. It then holds you to ransom, as per the name.
In the case of the WannaCry ransomware worm, aka WanaCryptor 2.0 or WCry, all your files are locked up leaving only two accessible - the malware itself and an instruction note on how to pay up before everything is deleted off your machine. These hackers are typically asking for tough-to-trace Bitcoin payments equivalent to between £400 and £1,375.
Will WannaCry affect my machine?
The WannaCry attack is specifically targeted at a flaw found in the Microsoft Windows operating system. So if you’re running a Windows PC, tablet or phone then you’re at risk.
If you have no anti viral software installed on your device, you’re even more at risk.
How do I protect myself from WannaCry?
The WannaCry ransomware needs to be installed on your machine to take effect. This is often done via a link in an email, appearing to be from someone you know. Alternatively this link could pop up inside an app or online download posing as something innocent. Crucially, this form of virus is a worm, meaning it is adapting and changing constantly to find new ways onto our machines.
The best way to avoid being stung is to be overly careful about what you install on your machine. If you receive any links that may be dubious, don’t click on them. If you need to try the link then type it out in a browser manually so you’re taken to that address, not something else hidden under that apparent link name.
When downloading new apps and software in general, make sure it’s from a secure site and has been validated as official software.
Installing a virus protection suite on your machine can also help to spot malware before it’s downloaded, so you know the link is safe to click on. Firewalls and keeping software updated can also help. If anything does make it through, lots of these programs are also able to protect files before too much is lost.
There is also a patch you can install, called MS17-010, which can help stop ransomware attackers. Advice on how to do that can be found on the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.
If the worst happens and you are infected then being prepared can help. If you have all your important documents backed up, to the cloud for example, then you can simply let the malware wipe your machine and start again using the backup.
All that said, so far the targets of WannaCray have been larger organisations with work-related data and money to pay out. So if you’re a casual home user, you’re likely to be safer than those wealthier targets. Not that the NHS is exactly rolling in it, but you get the point.
Should you pay the WannaCry ransom?
The simple answer is no, never pay. Not only does this encourage the creators to keep spreading the infection but it also doesn’t guarantee your data gets returned anyway.
Who’s to say someone that has infected your PC will give you back what’s yours after you pay?
How is WannaCry ransomware stopped?
The major attack that was spreading all over the world was actually thwarted by a 22-year-old researcher, simply by spending a tenner.
The young cyber expert was able to buy the domain which the WannaCry program contacts when it is ready to terminate itself. So by using this he was able to stop the attack, for the time being.