Meet ransomware

Why the headlines? To begin with, because WannaCry is a standout amongst the most common instances of ransomware—programming that encrypts the majority of the documents on your PC, and won’t open them until you pay the bad guys. In this case, you’re supposed to pay $300 within three days; by then, the cost goes up. Despite everything, if you haven’t paid in seven days, your files are gone until forever.

(Why can’t the authorities just trace the bad guys and see where all the money is going? Because here you have to pay in Bitcoin, which is a digital currency and its transactions are anonymous.)

The second striking feature: The WannaCry malware took advantage of a security hole in Windows that had already been discovered by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). But instead of letting Microsoft (MSFT) know what it had found, the NSA kept it a secret and, in fact, decided to write a “virus” of its own to exploit it.

Ransomware is dangerous. There’s no way to fix it out. Even if you pay, there’s no surety that you’ll get your files back; some of these ransomware people take your money and run.

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