Tips to avoid ransomware wreaking havoc

'WannaCry' ransomware attacking computers all over the world

This image provided by the Twitter page of @fendifille shows a computer at Greater Preston CCG as Britain's National Health Service is investigating "an issue with IT" Friday May 12, 2017. (@fendifille via AP)

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As the name implies, if your computer gets infected by the latest ransomware making the rounds, you’re going to want to cry.

WannaCry is the name of the malware infecting computers worldwide. CNBC is reporting some 200,000 computers in 150 countries, including the U.S., were hit — and that count was taken before everyone showed up at work Monday morning and logged on. Ransoms are reportedly a few hundred dollars, paid through bitcoin wallets.

It starts innocently enough.

“You usually get it via a spam message or a text message, or opening an attached document,” said John Klein, the associate director for Academic Service Information Technology for Grand Valley State University.

You probably think you know the sender. Klein said cyberspace pirates are meticulous when it comes to crafting the message so it looks a real as possible — like it’s coming from a friend, co-worker or a place you do business with.

Click to open and you’re infected.

If you’re on a work computer, it can spread through the entire network.

The malware allows crooks like those who sent out WannaCry to encrypt your computer, holding everything stored on it hostage unless you pay.

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Many organizations have newer operating systems that have security measures in place to guard against the spread of malware. But older operating systems, no longer supported by Microsoft, are especially vulnerable, though it appears Microsoft is now offering patches to protect those systems, as well. If you haven’t updated the operating systems on your personal computer, you can just as easily become a victim.

Klein has some advice on what to watch for:

“When you see something, a message come in with an attached document, unless you’re expecting that attachment from somebody, don’t open it. It could look like it came from your best friends or a co-worker, whatever, but if you’re not expecting it, don’t open it,” Klein said.

He also suggest making sure your software is updated, including patches that guard against most malware.

“Make sure you have good backups. Make sure you’re using good, strong passwords. Upper case, lower case. Actually pass phrases so that there are more than just a couple of words in there. At least 10 characters long,” he advised.

And if you get a note demanding ransom?

“Don’t pay that,” Klein said.

Keeping up with the online pirates trying to hold you digital information hostage is an ongoing battle.

“It is always trying to stay one step ahead,” Klein said.

That’s why universities, including GVSU and Ferris State, are offering cybersecurity courses.

“Those who come out with any kinds of degree or education in cybersecurity are almost guaranteed a job,” Klein said.

GVSU’s new cybersecurity concentration starts in the fall.