Published: Wed, May 24, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

Invest in cyber security or prepare for chaos

The malware, using a technique purportedly stolen from the US National Security Agency, stopped care Friday at hospitals across the United Kingdom, affected Russia's Ministry of Interior and infected company computer systems in countries from Eastern Europe to the US and Asia.

The virus or malware that has affected at least 150 countries this weekend primarily targets PCs and laptops that still use Windows XP.

The ransomware, which locked users' files and demanded payment to allow access, spread to 150 countries, including Russian Federation, the United States and China.

Cyber security researchers believe the attack might have been prevented if individuals or companies had updated their Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Although the spread of a "ransomware" that locked up more than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries had slowed, the respite might only be brief as there could be new havoc on Monday when employees return to work, cyber-security experts said, according to Reuters.

High-profile victims include hospitals in Britain, the Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, French carmaker Renault, US package delivery company FedEx, Russia's interior ministry and the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn.

It is the largest ransomware attack observed in history.

- How did the attack spread worldwide?

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He also urged Israel to comply with "just and human demands" of hundreds of Palestinian hunger strikers now forgoing food for the 37th day in Israeli prisons.

Bryce Boland, Asia Pacific chief technology officer for FireEye, a cybersecurity company, said it would be straightforward for existing attackers to launch new releases or for other ransomware authors to start copying the way the malware replicated.

The US security firm Symantec said the attack appeared to be indiscriminate.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the broad scope of NSA surveillance in 2013, tweeted, "If @NSAGov had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they *found* it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened".

But as Asia woke up to the working week on Monday, leading Chinese security-software provider Qihoo 360 said "hundreds of thousands" of computers in the country were hit at almost 30,000 institutions including government agencies.

- How can people protect their computers?

Microsoft said in a blog post that it was taking the "highly unusual" step of providing the patch for older versions of Windows it was otherwise no longer supporting, including Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Europol provides free decryption downloads for most ransomware already detected, though not yet for this particular attack. "As a result, it's possible to tell how much the criminals at the helm of this crimeware spree have made so far and how many victims have paid the ransom", Krebs writes.

The attacks, which experts said affected dozens of countries, used a technique known as ransomware that locks users' files unless they pay the attackers a designated sum in the virtual Bitcoin currency.

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