WannaCry was the most common crypto ransomware attack last year

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Almost a quarter (23.56%) of all encryption ransomware attacks that occurred in 2019 had encountered the WannaCry virus according to new research from PreciseSecurity.com.

Ransomware attacks against government agencies, healthcare organizations, the energy sector and education continue to rise. While the effects of some simple ransomware can be reversed, more advanced malware exploits a technique called crypto-viral extortion to put money in the hands of cybercriminals.

WannaCry targets computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system, encrypts their data and demands payment of a ransom in cryptocurrency to get it back. According to estimates, the WannaCry ransomware attack affected 230k computers around the world and caused $4bn in damages.

Most users that fell victim to WannaCry did so because they failed to update their systems to the latest version of Windows which is why updating software and operating systems regularly is an essential step to stay protected against ransomware.

Spam emails

PreciseSecurity.com's 2019 research data (opens in new tab) shows that phishing scams were the most common cause of ransomware infection globally last year. Over 67 percent of MSP users reported ransomware attacks caused by spam and phishing emails.

In fact the firm's research revealed that spam emails made up 55 percent of global email traffic during 2019 which explains the high number of ransomware infections.

A lack of cybersecurity training also played a role in the high number of infections with a 36 percent share in the combined number of ransomware attacks that occurred last year. Weak passwords led to another 30 percent of infections and poor user practices caused one-quarter of all ransomware attacks.

The WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 caused a great deal of damage but it also helped awaken the public to the high number of cyber threats online.

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After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.