Last weekend the world was hit with a massive cyber attack. It held more than 300,000 computers hostage as hackers demanded a ransom.
But ransomware is nothing new, and just because you weren't hit with WannaCry doesn't mean you've got nothing to worry about. So GoMN spoke with some computer experts to get a broader understanding of how ransomware works.
History of ransomware
Best Buy Geek Squad Agent Derek Meister tells GoMN ransomware – or malicious software used to extort money from computer users – dates back to 1989.
The very first malware of this kind was called AIDS Trojan, and it would hide files and demand a $189 "renewal fee." However, Meister explains AIDS Trojan was a pretty simple form that could be easily reversed.
It wasn't until around 2005 that ransomware started encrypting and really messing up files. So victims would depend on the hackers to help them get their stuff back – but of course, hackers wanted money first.
By 2016, there were about 700,000 ransomware attacks in a year. As more devices are connected to the internet, Meister says he expects that number to grow.
Who it affects
While the most recent attack with WannaCry only affected Windows computers that hadn't been updated, other forms of the malware target other devices.
It can happen to PCs, Macs, phones and tablets.
"If you use any type of device that's connected to the Internet, it's never safe to assume that you're automatically 'safe,'" Meister explains.
Ransomware vs. other malware
There are a whole bunch of different types of malware out there. Meister notes other forms, like adware (which makes certain ads pop up) and spyware (which steals your information), are much more common than ransomware.
While there might be hundreds of thousands of cases of ransomware a year, there are millions of other malware cases. So relatively speaking, ransomware is not very common.
However, the immediate effects of ransomware on computers can be much more devastating because you – or entire businesses – may be completely locked out.
Meister adds that ransomware hackers usually can't see or steal your information. That's not their goal. They just want you to pay them a ransom fee. They don't care about your stuff.
Spyware hackers, on the other hand, want to collect important information like credit card numbers, birthdates, etc.
How to protect yourself
Even if you get hit with ransomware and pay the ransom (which you're not supposed to do), there's no guarantee you'll get your stuff back.
As Agent Meister notes, hackers aren't always nice. They might not even know how to fix what they started, so it's best to be prepared.
First, backup all of your stuff – either on the internet or with an external drive. But if you use a drive, don't leave it plugged in because it could get infected too.
Next, keep everything up-to-date. Don't skip software updates.
And always watch what you're downloading and who you're sharing files with. Those are all ways malware can spread.
For more information on ransomware, check out Best Buy's FAQ.