A brand new “ransomware” virus has hit several major organizations in the past week.

The ransomware is called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, and it is popping up worldwide.

Since May 12, the ransomware not only has hit companies within the United States, but it also has been identified in 150 other countries.

Among those affected by the attack were Germany’s national railway and Britain’s hospital network.

This is being reported as the largest online extortion attack ever recorded.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks users from their own data files until a ransom is paid. These ransomware viruses generally are embedded in emails or compromised websites.

WannaCry exploits a specific vulnerability within the Windows operating system.

However, there are ways to protect personal computers from ransomware software:

  • Always keep antivirus software and the operating system up to date.
  • Never open email attachments from unknown contacts.
  • Never click on links sent by email from unknown contacts.
  • Delete and mark as spam any emails received from unknown senders.
  • Don’t browse or click on links featured on websites that aren’t approved by the internet browser.
  • Never hook up unknown external storage devices — hard drives, USB sticks, CDs, etc. — to a computer.
  • Regularly back up files to an external hard drive that then is disconnected from the computer.
  • If a computer is infected, do not pay the “ransom” — even if the ransom is paid, there are no guarantees that any files will be recovered.

If you suspect your computer has been compromised, visit a local computer technician.