On May 12, 2017, countless individuals and businesses worldwide were the targets of what experts deem the largest ransomware attack in history. In this attack, hackers sent emails containing encrypted .zip file attachments, which, when downloaded by the email recipient, infected the recipient’s computer with ransomware that commandeered and locked the computer’s files. The files were rendered inaccessible and released only upon payment of a bitcoin ransom to the hacker. According to reports, over 74 countries were hit by the attack, and hospitals and government agencies were among the victims. The damage, monetary or otherwise, resulting from the attack remains to be determined.

“Wannacry,” the name of the ransomware variant used in this attack, is reportedly derived from a stolen NSA hacking tool. The ransomware exploited Windows-based operating system vulnerabilities in computers that were not patched with the latest software update from Microsoft.

Although individuals and businesses in the United States remained largely unaffected, many experts say that this recent attack merely foreshadows future attacks of this scale that may potentially reach users stateside. As hackers become more sophisticated, attacks of this type may become the new normal. Given this new reality in the world of computing, it is increasingly important that computer users, particularly organizational users with databases and systems that house confidential and sensitive information, such as personally identifiable information (“PII”) or protected health information (“PHI”), ensure that computer systems are regularly updated with operating system software and security patches. Equally important is implementing organizational policies and procedures that require and encourage users to be vigilant against indiscriminate accessing and opening of suspicious emails with infected attachments and links.