Windows 10 version 1903 update settings

How to protect your Windows PC (and files) from the WannaCry ransomware attack

WannaCry ransomware continues to spread infecting many Windows PCs — Here's how to protect your data and device.

The WannaCry cyberattack continues to spread claiming victims around the globe crippling many computer systems. However, it’s actually an attack that could have been prevented, if businesses (or individuals) kept their Windows devices updated with the latest security patches.

According to official data, more than 200,000 PCs in more than 150 countries have been hit by this new ransomware. If you’re still new to the “ransomware” term, it’s a type of malware that blocks your access to your computer by encrypting all your data until a ransom is paid.

In the case of the WannaCry attack, these hackers were asking for $300 in Bitcoin to unlock your computer files. The longer you take to pay, the more money you have to pay, and after a week hackers threaten to permanently lock your files. Paying the ransom is not recommended, as there is no guarantee that paying up will unlock your device’s data.

The victims affected by this ransomware included a number of hospitals in the UK. It also hit phone companies like Telefonica, as well as delivery companies like FedEx, Deutsche Bahn, and airlines, such as Latham Airlines.

What’s WannaCry

WannaCry is a particularly nasty computer worm, its name is short for “WannaCrypt”, and it’s also referred to as “Wanna Decryptor” and “WannaCryptor”.

Usually, a computer will get infected, if the user clicks a link on a specially crafted email. However, this worm is also capable of spreading through the network attacking devices running old unsupported or unpatched versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003.

This vulnerability was exposed earlier this year, and Microsoft released a patch, which means that if your keep your device updated, there shouldn’t be any worries about this ransomware on Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 (and later versions).

However, many PCs affected during the attack were still running Windows XP, which Microsoft stopped supporting years ago. But in this case, this cyber attack was so bad that Microsoft decided to release an emergency patch for anyone still running the decade-old OS — even though, users have been warned many times that the OS wasn’t safe anymore.

How to protect your PC and files from a ransomware attack

This is not the first nor the last ransomware we’ll see. If you own a business, or you’re an individual, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent being caught in the ransomware storm.

Here are a few tips to stay safe and secure:

Keep Windows updated

Seeing this global attack, now more than ever, it’s important to keep your PC updated with the latest version and latest security patches.

Windows 10 includes a new mechanism to keep computers always up to date, and even though, many users may not agree with mandatory updates, now you have a good reason to keep your PC always updated. (You can check for updates by going to Settings > Update & security > Windows Update, and clicking the Check for updates button.)

If you’re running Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Vista, or Windows XP, make sure to go to Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Windows Update and make sure that Windows Update is turned on to work automatically and is working correctly.

Microsoft issued a patch for the WannaCry vulnerability about two months ago, which means that many companies and individuals could have prevented the attack.

If you’re using a newer version of Windows, including Windows 10, Windows 8.1, or Windows 7, and you’ve kept your computer up to date with automatic updates, the patch should have arrived during March’s Patch Tuesday that fixes this problem.

Install an antivirus

Installing the latest updates is just part of the equation, you also need to install an antivirus to fight back viruses and other malware that can infect your computer.

A lot of the popular antivirus software included a mechanism to detect and remove this ransomware. That’s, of course, if you kept the antivirus up to date to block WannaCry. (Windows Defender Antivirus also can detect and remove this threat.)

You should only use antivirus from trusted companies in the business, such as:

  • Symantec Norton Antivirus
  • Bitdefender
  • Malwarebytes

In addition, you can also install anti-ransomware software, such as RansomFree, to keep your computer protected from these types of attacks.

Upgrade to Windows 10

Unless you have a very complicated computer configuration, there is no need to be running an old version of Windows on your device.

Here are the steps to move to Windows 10 from virtually every past version of the OS:

Create a full backup of your system and data

Perhaps the best thing you can do to protect your computer and data from attacks, such as WannaCry and other malware, is to regularly create a full backup of your computer and data before your device is compromised.

Once you have a backup in place, in the event your device gets hijacked, you can simply restore everything from the backup in a matter of minutes.

Usually, you should be creating a backup of your computer and data in a regular basis, in case of hardware failure or data corruption.

Another thing you should do is to create a backup to an external hard drive, disconnect the portable storage, and put it away.

It’s also a good idea to create multiple backups on different drives and keep at least one offsite, just in case of a fire.

Here are a few recommended external hard drives to use:

  • Seagate Expansion 5TB Desktop External Hard Drive | See at Amazon
  • Seagate Backup Plus 4TB Portable External Hard Drive | See at Amazon
  • WD 4TB My Book Desktop External Hard Drive | See at Amazon

Don’t open suspicious emails or click pop-ups

It’s believed that the WannaCry may have started infecting computers through email attachments, as such always avoid clicking links from a suspicious email that you receive.

While checking new emails, make sure to look at the email sender’s email address and identify whether or not is legit.

Typically, spam and emails meant to cause harm include typos and many grammatical errors.

If you received an email from an online service, company, or bank, note that they’ll never ask you for sensitive information.

A lot of other times, malicious individuals will craft ransomware and disguise them as an advertisement pop-up, such as on security product offerings. Do yourself a favor, and never click these links. Just close the window and move on, but if you can’t, restart your computer.

What to do if your PC has been compromised

If your computer gets infected with ransomware, such as WannaCry, immediately disconnect your computer from the network to prevent other devices from getting infected.

Seek help from a computer professional, you may be able to regain control of your system.

If you made a backup, the quickest and best solution is to erase your computer and restore everything from the backup.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].