Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

Microsoft could have stopped WannaCry ransomware from spreading, but it did nothing

Microsoft could have stopped WannaCry ransomware from spreading, but it did nothing

The particularly nasty computer program dubbed WannaCry that attacked hospitals, businesses and government agencies around the world this past weekend was like a cybercrime highlight reel, a compilation of by-now familiar elements that played out on an epic scale.

WannaCry ransomware had spread using a loophole in Microsoft windows operating systems that were initially found by the U.S. national security agency (NSA), which according to reports was using it in order to find a way to hack networks of terrorist groups, and was leaked by Shadow Brokers, which said that it had found the tools in agency's servers which the group had breached earlier.

Yes, it was a ransomeware attack, in which individual computers are frozen and the contents encrypted, and a ransom demanded in return for a decryption key. "It blocks access to any files on a PC until a ransom is paid". If there are none, don't lose hope: There may be new security tools to unlock your files in the future.

As the payment is made in Bitcoins, the hackers remain anonymous, making it almost impossible for them to be caught by the authorities.

That's what led to such strong warnings being issued by security experts: Chris Camacho of New York's Flashpoint said, "When people ask what keeps you up at night, it's this"; Rohy Belani of email security company PhishMe said, "This is nearly like the atom bomb of ransomware".

Keep all software up-to-date, including all security updates and patches. Other breeds of malware may infect various operating systems, so no matter which device you are using, you should regularly update your software to install the latest security enhancements.

But then, the patches won't do any good for machines that have already been hit.

As reported earlier, there were fears that Indian banks' ATMs would be worst hit because of old systems.

A former USA government official said that while Microsoft had significantly improved its security over the past 10 to15 years, it could have acted to protect Windows XP before the ransomware crisis.

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Singapore ranks eighth in the Asia-Pacific region and 42nd globally in terms of ransomware attacks, with an average of 16 attacks a day, according to an industry study.

Fedex said Friday it was "experiencing interference with some of our windows-based systems caused by malware".

How did the attack spread so fast?

The alarming news that criminal hackers released a new strain of ransomware, WannaCry (WanaCrypt0r 2.0), that spreads itself automatically across all workstations in a network has been hard to miss over the past few days. This is probably why its impact is so public - because large numbers of machines at each victim organisation are being compromised.

The malware attack targeted a vulnerability in Microsoft's (US:MSFT) Windows XP software and spread to computers in 150 countries, including the online systems of 47 NHS trusts in England.

Who's behind the WannaCry attack?

Meanwhile, cybersecurity firm Quick Heal Technologies has detected more than 48,000 attempts across India. "Microsoft knew about this vulnerability - how widely it could get exploited", he said. "We have what they want", he says. "We reached out to everyone on Saturday, majority personally on the telephone itself so that they can kickstart their operations on Saturday and complete it on Sunday".

"Even Google just announced that they'd only be supporting their latest phone range and offering updates for three years".

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