Massive ransomware attack hits 99 countries

Global extortion cyberattack hits dozens of nations

But computers and networks that hadn't updated their systems were still at risk.

Microsoft has called the cyber-attack that crippled businesses and services across 150 countries a "wake-up call", and has blamed government agencies for storing details of software vulnerabilities like stockpiled weapons.

Renault said on Saturday it had halted manufacturing at plants in Sandouville, France, and Romania to prevent the spread of ransomware in its systems. The attack held hospitals and other entities hostage by freezing their computers, encrypting their data and demanding money through online bitcoin payment - $300 at first, rising to $600 before it destroys files hours later. Two big telecom companies, Telefónica (TEF) of Spain and Megafon of Russian Federation, were also hit.

Chinese media reported on Sunday that students at several universities were hit, blocking access to their thesis papers and dissertation presentations. So far approximately 200,000 computers in over 150 countries have been impacted, making this the largest worldwide ransomware attack to date. "We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits", Smith said.

"I don't believe it will have been a targeted attack, but will simply have been that the ransomware has sought out those organizations that are running susceptible devices", he said.

Across an ocean, Darien Huss, a 28-year-old research engineer for the cybersecurity firm Proofpoint, was doing his own analysis. "It's a big priority of mine that we protect the financial infrastructure", he said.

The threat receded over the weekend after a British-based researcher, who declined to give his name but tweets under the profile @MalwareTechBlog, said he stumbled on a way to at least temporarily limit the worm's spread by registering a web address to which he noticed the malware was trying to connect. Normally, such patches are reserved for organizations willing to pay for extended support.

According to Matthew Hickey, founder of the security firm Hacker House, Friday's attack is not surprising, and it shows many organizations do not apply updates in a timely fashion.

The hackers behind WannaCry took things a step further by creating a ransomware worm, allowing them to demand ransom payments not just from individual but from entire organizations - maybe even thousands of organizations. The ransomware exploited a vulnerability that has been patched in updates of recent versions of Windows since March, but Microsoft until now didn't make freely available the patch for Windows XP and other older systems.

That said, Microsoft can't shirk the blame entirely - it needs to reconsider its responsibility for users that work on older systems, particularly those across large networks that might avoid the sheer cost and scale of regular updating. It seems many PCs didn't get updated, leaving them exposed to the malicious ransomware. Britain's National Cyber Security Center said it could have been much worse if not for a young cybersecurity researcher. That cheap move redirected the attacks to MalwareTech's server, which operates as a "sinkhole" to keep malware from escaping. In the U.S., FedEx reported that its Windows computers were "experiencing interference" from malware, but wouldn't say if it had been hit by ransomware. But the kill switch couldn't help those already infected.

You'll immediately know whether you're infected - you'll be greeted by a popup screen saying "Ooops, your important files are encrypted".

In March, Wikileaks released 8,761 documents and files outlining the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) hacking toolkit, that was aimed at exploiting flaws in Apple, Samsung and Microsoft. "Otherwise they're literally fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past".

As part of a comprehensive information governance program, ensure that you have a thorough incident response plan in place that contemplates the occurrence of a ransomware attack.


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