Published: Tue, May 16, 2017
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Ransomware attack hits computers in 99 countries

It was not immediately clear how many Spanish organizations had been compromised by the attacks, if any critical services had been interrupted or whether victims had paid cyber criminals to regain access to their networks.

There have been no reports of computers being hit in Australia. It said the attacks were carried out with a version of WannaCry ransomware that encrypted files and prompted a demand for money transfers to free up the system.

Earlier today, Spain's National Cryptology Centre said various local firms were being targeted by this same variant of the WannaCry virus, including Telefonica and several energy suppliers.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked documents to journalists revealing the existence of broad USA surveillance programs, said on Twitter the NSA had built attack tools targeting US software that "now threatens the lives of hospital patients".

A report from a security firm indicates more than 45,000 malicious computer attacks in 74 countries in the past 10 hours.

The NHS computer systems were hit by what's known as ransomware, which locks the files on any affected machine and makes it unusable unless its owner pays a set amount, usually in the virtual currency bitcoin, to an anonymous account.

A spokesman for Barts Health NHS Trust in London said it was experiencing "major IT disruption" and delays at all four of its hospitals.

It is understood that several health trusts turned their computer systems off as a precautionary measure, rather than being shut down by the attack.

Many cancelled all routine procedures and asked patients not to come to the hospitals unless it was an emergency.

Hacking tools believed to belong to the NSA that were leaked online last month appear to be the root cause of a major cyber attack unfurling throughout Europe and beyond, security researchers said, stoking fears that the spy agency's powerful cyber weapons had been stolen and repurposed by hackers with nefarious goals.

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However, others have suggested other names, including Judge Merrick Garland, whose Supreme Court nomination was squashed by Republicans.

British government officials and intelligence chiefs have repeatedly highlighted the threat to critical infrastructure and the economy from cyberattacks.

NHS Digital said it was working with the government's National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Health and NHS England to help the organizations affected "manage the incident swiftly and decisively".

Britain's National Health Service is a source of pride for many Britons but faces substantial budget issues and has had previous problems with its huge IT system.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise around the world.

Krishna Chinthapalli, a doctor at Britain's National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery who wrote a paper on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal, warned that British hospitals' old operating systems and confidential patient information made them an ideal target for blackmailers.

The spokesman, Jan Op Gen Oorth, declined to give further details Friday so as not to jeopardize the ongoing investigations.

In a tweet, Europol Director Rob Wainwright said the cyberattack on British health care institutions "follows trend from USA of ransomware attacks on health care trusts".

A top Russian mobile operator says it has come under cyberattacks that appeared similar to those that have crippled some United Kingdom hospitals.

Awais Rashid, a professor of software engineering at Lancaster University, said "the key question" to consider is how an attack such as Friday's could originate "from a noncritical system such as email" and then spread to other systems.

He said that mobile communications haven't been affected. It said the attack did not specifically target the NHS. The attack prevented care, and disrupted electronic records-keeping across the country.

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