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Preventing WannaCry, other ransomware attacks

The newest computer ransomware to hit on a global scale first appeared late last week and continues to replicate across Europe and Asia, affecting hundreds of thousands of users and businesses, universities and even hospitals. Dubbed “WannaCry,” the malware attacks computers, then demands a ransom in bitcoin to regain the ability to access files.

An expert at Washington University in St. Louis says there are fixes to keep your computer safe as the "WannaCry" ransomware outbreak continues to spread throughout Europe and Asia.

A cybersecurity expert at Washington University in St. Louis says programmers were aware of the potential trouble months ago, but playing catch-up to remedy the problem is difficult.

“Microsoft made the patch available to this on March 14,” said Patrick Crowley, professor of computer science & engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “However, it is hard to keep all machines patched.”

Crowley, whose research focuses on computer and network systems, says a simple fix can make a world of difference when it comes to protecting your computer, and your files, from cyber attacks such as WannaCry.

“Everyone should use a cloud-based backup service. If your important data is backed up elsewhere, then ransomware can’t hurt you,” said Crowley.

While the shockwaves from WannaCry have been felt around the globe, Crowley says there’s an interesting twist: Authorities can track just how much money the cyber-attackers have stolen.

“This ransomware demands bitcoin as payment, which means that the total money raised by this campaign is public,” Crowley said. “It currently stands at about $60,000 U.S. As for the amount collected so far, it seems small in relation to the amount of attention it has garnered. Anyone who thinks this incident is a global crisis should take comfort in knowing that it has only done that much damage to date.”

Crowley may be reached for further comment at pcrowley@wustl.edu.


The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 94 tenured/tenure-track and 28 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.



Patrick Crowley


Professor Crowley is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Observable Networks, which has commercialized his endpoint modeling technology.

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