WashU Expert: Preventing WannaCry, other ransomware attacks

An expert at Washington University in St. Louis says there are fixes to keep your computer safe as the "WannaCry" ransomware outbreak continues to spread throughout Europe and Asia.

The newest computer ransomware to hit on a global scale first appeared late last week and continues to replicate across Europe and Asia, affecting hundreds of thousands of users and businesses, universities and even hospitals. Dubbed “WannaCry,” the malware attacks computers, then demands a ransom in bitcoin to regain the ability to access files.

A cybersecurity expert at Washington University in St. Louis says programmers were aware of the potential trouble months ago, but playing catch-up to remedy the problem is difficult.


“Microsoft made the patch available to this on March 14,” said Patrick Crowley, professor of computer science & engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “However, it is hard to keep all machines patched.”

Crowley, whose research focuses on computer and network systems, says a simple fix can make a world of difference when it comes to protecting your computer, and your files, from cyber attacks such as WannaCry.

“Everyone should use a cloud-based backup service. If your important data is backed up elsewhere, then ransomware can’t hurt you,” said Crowley.

While the shockwaves from WannaCry have been felt around the globe, Crowley says there’s an interesting twist: Authorities can track just how much money the cyber-attackers have stolen.

“This ransomware demands bitcoin as payment, which means that the total money raised by this campaign is public,” Crowley said. “It currently stands at about $60,000 U.S. As for the amount collected so far, it seems small in relation to the amount of attention it has garnered. Anyone who thinks this incident is a global crisis should take comfort in knowing that it has only done that much damage to date.”

Crowley, who is also founder and Chief Technology Officer of the cybersecurity firm Observable Networks, may be reached for further comment at pcrowley@wustl.edu


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