Thursday, 27 July, 2017

Cyber attack hits 200000 in at least 150 countries: Europol

Lucas Bell | 15 May, 2017, 17:57

United Kingdom defense secretary Michael Fallon said Sunday that Britain's nuclear submarines were safe from cyberattack.

The governments of the world should treat the cyber attack as a "wake-up call", the president of Microsoft has said.

Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, the European Union's police agency, said at least 200,000 victims were affected.

Meanwhile, digital rights campaigners Open Rights Group has accused GCHQ of a "very unsafe strategy of hoarding knowledge of security problems".

Although a temporary fix earlier slowed the infection rate, the attackers had now released a new version of the ransomware, he said.

The attack might spread further once people return to work on May 15 and log on to their computers, Wainwright warned.

The attack held users 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.

He said: "First of all we can not force people to join the army, we don't have conscription in this country, the army has to compete with other sectors in the economy".

Students at universities in China were locked out of their work, including dissertations and thesis papers, according to Chinese media and reported by The Associated Press.

Nonetheless, the experts say such widespread attacks are tough to pull off.

Now that this "WannaCry" malware is out there, the world's computer systems are vulnerable to a degree they haven't been before, unless people everywhere move quickly to install Microsoft's security patches.

First, there was a highly unsafe security hole in Microsoft Windows, which became known after hackers leaked tools that were apparently created by the U.S. National Security Agency to exploit the hole.

Darien Huss, a 28-year-old research engineer who helped stop the malware's spread, said he was "still anxious for what's to come in the next few days, because it really would not be so hard for the actors behind this to re-release their code without a kill switch or with a better kill switch".

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Major global companies said they also came under attack. Microsoft released a patch back in March, but many users and organizations had not updated their systems with the the fix.

Experts say this vulnerability has been understood among experts for months, yet too many groups failed to take it seriously.

The Windows vulnerability in question was purportedly identified by the NSA for its own intelligence-gathering purposes.

"The problem is the larger organizations are still running on old, no longer supported operating systems", said Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based blogger who runs BleepingComputer.com. "They get well resourced for their information technology".

An Garda Síochána said early Sunday there had been no identified cyber attack on any Irish state computer system from the wave of global ransomware attacks, although RTÉ reported a suspected attack on healthcare facility in the south-east.

Technical staff scrambled on Sunday to patch computers and restore infected ones, amid fears that the ransomware worm that stopped vehicle factories, hospitals, shops and schools could wreak fresh havoc on Monday when employees log back on.

The hack was only stopped after a malware researcher found a kill switch, but analysts believe that more systems could be attacked in the coming days.

Short of paying, options for those already infected are usually limited to recovering data files from a backup, if available, or living without them. Intelligence officials wouldn't comment on the authenticity of the claims. The NSA tools were stolen by hackers and dumped on the internet.

There is a high probability that Russian-language cybercriminals were behind the attack, said Aleks Gostev, chief cybersecurity expert for Kaspersky Labs.

"There are other criminals who've launched this attack, and they are ultimately responsible for this", he said from his home in Oxford, England.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said it's been working with the healthcare sector to help it respond.

So far, not many people have paid the ransom demanded by the malware, Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth told The Associated Press. "It's a handy thing to have, but it's a risky thing to have". "Organizations that forgot or ignored the breach, or assumed that it wouldn't happen to them are now learning how important it is to check yourself daily and hourly, even if you checked the system at the beginning of the day". "And that's what's happening right now". Allen G. Breed from Raleigh, North Carolina, Brian Melley in Los Angeles and AP Technology Writer Anick Jesdanun in NY contributed.

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