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Rebecca Zisser / Axios

With the so-called WannaCry ransomware attack "zipping around the world" and " some of the really interesting aspects of our cybersecurity debate," Federal Trade Commission Democrat Terrell McSweeny says there are some things consumers can do to protect their computers:

  1. Update your software so it incorporates recent security patches. That can mean turning automatic updates back on for many users. "If you've disabled that function, turn it back on and update your software package," McSweeny said during an interview for C-SPAN's "The Communicators" slated to run this weekend.
  2. Back up your data so you don't lose much if hackers hold it hostage. "Backing up your files [in] a reliable way, so that if your system is suddenly encrypted through a ransomware attack you still have another copy of all of that important personal information in a safe place that's disconnected from that computer so that you can recreate it and you're not dependent on that computer," McSweeny said.

When it comes to whether users should pay a ransom to retrieve their data, "generally in this situation with this attack, the advice has been not to pay it because you may not get your information back anyway."

Why it matters: WannaCry isn't the last time Americans will hear about ransomware, especially as it becomes a more common tool to attack connected devices in the Internet of Things.

On the FTC's role: McSweeny noted that global law enforcement agencies are looking into the attack, and that the FTC's role in responding to the worldwide story would likely be more about educating users. She said, however, that there was a hypothetical, broad situation in which a company that was attacked by ransomware but had lax data security could be the target of an FTC probe.

"You could say that if you were not adequately maintaining your cybersecurity hygiene as an organization, you fell victim to a ransomware attack or lost a lot of consumer information through a ransomware attack, that could actually give rise to FTC liability," she said.

A warning: "So if we're just relying on consumers and end users, then we will end up in situations where this kind of ransomware attack is able to exploit vulnerabilities that aren't patched," she said.

Companies take note: McSweeny also said that the WannaCry attack was a reminder of the importance of cybersecurity for corporate America. "I think it really underscores an important feature of this discussion, though, which is cybersecurity best practice is no longer a thing that lives in a Chief Information Security Officer role within an organization, it's something that should be understood at the highest levels of organizations and companies," she said.

Go deeper

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Netflix tops 200 million global subscribers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Netflix said that it added another 8.5 million global subscribers last quarter, bringing its total number of paid subscribers globally to more than 200 million.

The big picture: Positive fourth-quarter results show Netflix's resiliency, despite increased competition and pandemic-related production headwinds.

Janet Yellen plays down debt, tax hike concerns in confirmation hearing

Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen at an event in December. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Janet Yellen, Biden's pick to lead the Treasury Department, pushed back against two key concerns from Republican senators at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday: the country's debt and the incoming administration's plans to eventually raise taxes.

Driving the news: Yellen — who's expected to win confirmation — said spending big now will prevent the U.S. from having to dig out of a deeper hole later. She also said the Biden administration's priority right now is coronavirus relief, not raising taxes.

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