Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Medical | By Sammy Miller

Global Cyber Attack: British Security Officials Warn of Weekday 'WannaCry' Spread

Global Cyber Attack: British Security Officials Warn of Weekday 'WannaCry' Spread

Always install your updates as companies always release software updates to fix vulnerabilities that can be exploited to install ransomware.

Hospitals, major companies and government offices have been hit by a massive wave of cyberattacks across the globe that seize control of computers until the victims pay a ransom.

The warning echoed that from Europe's policing agency earlier Sunday.

"Very few banks if any have been affected because they've learned from painful experience of being the number one target for cybercrime", he said on ITV's Peston on Sunday program. "We've seen that the slowdown of the infection rate over Friday night, after a temporary fix around it, has now been overcome by a second variation the criminals have released".

The researcher, who uses the Twitter handle @malwaretechblog, told CNNTech they registered the domain name in order to study the virus, but it turned out the ransomware needed it to remain unregistered to keep spreading. However, he said it's only a matter of time before such a version exists.

"I still expect another to pop up and be fully operational", Kalember said. 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.

Hundreds of thousands of computers have been affected so far. The malware called WannaCry locks down the targeted machines by encrypting its data refusing access to its owner until he pays the demanded ransom.

Sixteen National Health Service organizations in the United Kingdom were hit, and some of those hospitals canceled outpatient appointments and told people to avoid emergency departments if possible.

Chinese media reported on Sunday that students at several universities were hit, blocking access to their thesis papers and dissertation presentations.

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MalwareTech, who works for cybersecurity firm Kryptos Logic, is part of a large global cybersecurity community who are constantly watching for attacks and working together to stop or prevent them, often sharing information via Twitter. That affordable move redirected the attacks to MalwareTech's server, which operates as a "sinkhole" to keep malware from escaping.

They proposed a plan to improve cyber security that included a replacement of outdated systems "as a matter of urgency", calling its continued use "one of the most pressing issues facing IT infrastructure" in the NHS.

Computers and networks that hadn't recently updated their systems are still at risk because the ransomware is lurking. "It should just be a case of making sure installing updates is enabled, installing the updates, and reboot". The attack appeared to exploit a vulnerability purportedly identified for use by the U.S. National Security Agency and later leaked to the internet. The tools were made public by a hacking group called the Shadow Brokers.

India is on high alert, monitoring critical networks across sectors like banking, telecom, power and aviation to ensure that systems are protected against the attack that has claimed victims in more than 150 countries over the weekend.

Microsoft said in a blog post Saturday 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. It seems many PCs didn't get updated, leaving them exposed to the malicious ransomware.

Short of paying, options for those already infected are usually limited to recovering data files from a backup, if available, or living without them.

Computer security experts said the current attack could have been much worse but for the quick action of a young researcher in Britain who discovered a vulnerability in the ransomware itself, known as WanaCryptor 2.0.

"Both staff and patients were frankly pretty appalled that somebody, whoever they are, for commercial gain or otherwise, would attack a health care organization", he said.

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