How to protect your PC after a weekend wave of cyber attacks

PCs running older Windows operating systems were targeted around the globe by ransomware attacks.
PCs running older Windows operating systems were targeted around the globe by ransomware attacks. TNS

With any luck, your computer awakened safely Monday morning from its weekend slumber following massive cyberattacks on systems in 150 countries.

Experts say the ransomware attacks, in which computer systems are locked until users pay to release them, have mostly attacked businesses. But individuals with personal computers running Windows operating systems should also take precautions.

Windows maker Microsoft says ransomware can infect your PC by visiting unsafe, suspicious or fake websites; by opening emails and attachments from people you don’t know or didn’t expect; or by clicking on malicious links in emails and social media.

The attack largely infected networks that used out-of-date software, such as Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer offers technical support for, the New York Times reported.

CNN offers these tips for individuals:

▪ Install software updates and do it routinely. Use auto-update if available

▪ Use anti-virus software.

▪ Back up your files regularly. This can save your photos and documents.

▪ Never click on links that you don't recognize, or download files from people you don't know personally. Microsoft advises be alert to strange spellings of company names, or unusual spaces, symbols or punctuation.

The latest ransomware spread across some university, business and government networks because of several factors, the New York Times reports.

The virus targeted operating systems Microsoft stopped servicing years ago. It also took advantage of previously-identified security hole to which some users didn’t apply a patch Microsoft released in March.

On Friday, Microsoft took the unusual step of broadly releasing patches to protect Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003.

“This just highlights the importance of patching up immediately,” said Bei-Tseng “Bill” Chu, who teaches in UNC Charlotte’s Department of Software and Information Systems. Chu advises PC users to set all software, including for browsers, to automatically update to new versions.

Chu says PC owners should back up their files, but how that’s done is important because ransomware encrypts data to make backups useless. Backing up or copying data to a drive that can be unplugged from the network solves that problem, he said.

Like other experts, Chu also says PCS users should be wary of what they click on.

The New York Times offered a deeper dive into softward that can help you avoid attacks.

Cybersecurity experts say hacked users shouldn’t pay ransoms because it only fuels such attacks, but acknowledge that paying up – about $300 in the weekend wave – might seem worth it to recover critical files.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender