23 February 2019
Britain's National Health Service was among those targeted in a global cyber-attack. Photo: Reuters
Britain's National Health Service was among those targeted in a global cyber-attack. Photo: Reuters

More disruptions feared from global cyber-attack

A major cyber-attack that affected several companies and organizations in dozens of countries around the world late last week could cause more disruptions, experts warned.

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.

Internet security professionals fear new versions of the worm dubbed “WannaCry”.

“We’ve seen the rise of ransomware becoming the principal threat, I think, but this is something we haven’t seen before — the global reach is unprecedented,” Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright said on Sunday.

The malware used a technique purportedly stolen from the US National Security Agency.

It affected the UK’s National Health Service, Russia’s Ministry of Interior, Germany’s rail system, automakers Nissan Motor and Renault, logistics giant FedEx Corp., and other company and hospital computer systems in countries from Eastern Europe to the US and Asia, Bloomberg reports.

The hackers used the tool to encrypt files within affected computers, making them inaccessible, and demanded ransom — typically US$300 in bitcoin.

Microsoft President Brad Smith, in a blog post Sunday, said the attack is a “wake-up call” for governments in the US and elsewhere to stop stockpiling tools to exploit digital vulnerabilities.

“They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world,” he said.

About 97 percent of U.K. facilities and doctors disabled by the attack were back to normal operation, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Saturday after a government meeting.

At the height of the attack Friday and early Saturday, 48 organizations in the NHS were affected, and hospitals in London, North West England and Central England urged people with non-emergency conditions to stay.

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.

While the scale of the attack shows Microsoft needs to strengthen its own capabilities, “there is simply no way for customers to protect themselves against threats unless they update their system,” Smith said in his blog post.

Victims have paid about US$30,000 in ransom so far, with the total expected to rise substantially next week, Tom Robinson, chief operating officer and co-founder of Elliptic Enterprises, a ransomware consultant that works with banks and companies, told Bloomberg.

Robinson said he calculated the total based on payments tracked to bitcoin addresses specified in the ransom demands.

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