Published: Tue, May 16, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

WannaCry ransomware infects a quarter million computers in 150 countries

WannaCry ransomware infects a quarter million computers in 150 countries

Microsoft warned governments Sunday against storing computer vulnerabilities like the leaked one at the heart of the cyberattack that has crippled computers in more than 150 countries.

Computer users worldwide - and everyone else who depends on them - should assume that the next big "ransomware" attack has already been launched, and just hasn't manifested itself yet, Ori Eisen, who founded the Trusona cybersecurity firm in Scottsdale, Arizona, told The Associated Press.

A screenshot of the warning screen from a purported ransomware attack, as captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on laptop in Beijing on Saturday.

"This is obviously by far the worst ransomware outbreak we've seen in, I think, forever", said Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based malware expert who runs BleepingComputer.com.

Many people in fact believe someone at NSA must have tipped Microsoft that the files had been stolen, which is how it knew it needed to push out that particular patch, said Ryan Kalember of Proofpoint, a Sunnyvale, Calif. -based security firm whose researchers were instrumental in fighting the the WannaCry attack. The hackers then demand $300 in order to release control of the files.

Puts the computers in hostage and to release them and do not delete the data, it asks ransom to Bitcoin.

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As per the Cyber Swachhta Kendra (Botnet Cleaning and Malware Analysis Centre), ransomware spreads by using a vulnerability in implementations of "Server Message Block" (SMB) in Windows systems. But how much do individuals need to worry about their personal computers being targeted?

Code for exploiting that bug, which is known as "Eternal Blue", was released on the Internet in March by a hacking group known as the Shadow Brokers. That's left older Windows machines, or those users who failed to patch newer machines, vulnerable to Friday's attack. Its impact was such that it made Microsoft make a rare move and issue further patches to Windows XP, a platform that has been unsupported since 2014.

While the effect on Asian entities appeared to be contained on Monday, industry professionals flagged potential risks as more systems came online across the region. Doctors' practices and pharmacies reported similar problems.

In the United Kingdom, hospitals were crippled by the cyberattack, which forced operations to be canceled and ambulances to be diverted.

Patients arriving at Dharmais Cancer Hospital had to wait several hours while staff worked with paper records.

Hundreds of hospitals and clinics in the British National Health Service were infected on Friday, forcing them to send patients to other facilities. "It's stressful enough for someone going through recovery or treatment for cancer". They also told not to operate ATMs unless updates are in place.

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"The recent attack is at an unprecedented level and will require a complex Global investigation to identify the culprits", Europol's European Cybercrime Center says.

Spain, meanwhile, activated a special protocol to protect critical infrastructure in response to the "massive infection" of personal and corporate computers in ransomware attacks. The government said it was communicating with more than 100 energy, transportation, telecommunications and financial services providers about the attack.

Spain's Telefonica was among the companies hit.

NHS Digital, which oversees hospital cybersecurity, says the attack used the Wanna Decryptor variant of malware, which infects and locks computers while the attackers demand a ransom. Organizations had two months to update their Microsoft products, which would have protected their systems.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ electronic intelligence agency, said it was working with police and the health system to investigate the attack.

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