By now, you’ve heard all about those ransomware attacks that crippled Britain’s hospitals and businesses and organizations in 150 countries.

The worst part is that this round of attacks was entirely preventable if good, basic security rules had been followed. And I’m not even talking about teaching employees not to click on suspicious links or unexpected attachments.

If the people in charge of keeping these systems safe had been serious about security, this never would have happened.

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The flaw that allowed these attacks to go down was identified months ago by Microsoft and a patch was issued back in March to protect systems against this exploit.

The problem is that many places are still running the unprotected XP operating system or just not bothering to do security updates for their system.

I know a lot of you love XP. But Microsoft ended security and bug updates THREE years ago. And even if you’re running Norton or any other third-party security system, they can’t properly patch or protect XP.  XP systems are especially vulnerable because when patches are issued, hackers can do what’s called reverse engineering. They analyze the security patch to figure out what it’s patching and then write up a bit of malware to take advantage of that flaw in unprotected systems. That means Windows XP (and now Vista) AND Windows systems that haven’t had recent security updates.

Your PC is a sitting duck.  Hey, maybe you’ve been running XP without issue for three years, but, as I’ve said in previous articles –I had a great uncle that went to Florida three months out of the year and used to leave his door unlocked. No one ever broke in. But I sure wouldn’t want to try that.

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Big entities with money to pay for ransom are the preferred targets — for now. Keep in mind that the ransomware landscape is changing. You don’t need to have any real tech knowledge these days to be a cybercriminal. Crooks can purchase ransomware packages all ready to go. There are even services to collect their payments for them. Expect home users to be targeted more and more as more criminals enter the ransomware game and need more victims.

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Here’s what you (and companies and other organizations) must do to protect themselves.

1. Use an up-to-date operating system. If you’re using Windows XP, Vista, or a version of Mac OS that is no longer supported – stay offline with that computer.  Also be careful about loading files onto that PC.

2. Run those security updates ASAP.  This refers to both Windows and Mac updates and to any updates from third-party security software. If your device isn’t already set for automatic updates, set it now.

3. Be cautious about any links or attachments you receive.

As a consumer, be proactive. Ask your doctor, lawyer, financial advisor, bank etc… what operating system is being used and if security is updated regularly. If they can’t answer, ask them to find out who can.

Check in with your church, club, or any other organization you belong to and make sure they are safe.

Check with your friends and relatives to make sure they are up-to-date. Remember, someone who gets into their information, might be able to find out quite a bit about you.

~ Cynthia