'WannaCry' ransomware attack: What we know

by Joy Montgomery May 17, 2017, 0:28
'WannaCry' ransomware attack: What we know

The attack was a remarkable global event. But reports soon came in from all over the world.

Although the ransomware continued to spread at a more subdued pace yesterday, many companies and government agencies were still struggling to recover from the first attack.

According to Microsoft, computers affected by the so-called "ransomware" did not have security patches for various Windows versions installed or were running Windows XP, which the company no longer supports.

Meanwhile, new versions of the ransomware have reportedly surfaced, including one without the kill switch exploited by a 22-year-old computer security researcher to shut the attack down.

The risk isn't over.

Apple is not invulnerable to ransomware attacks, "a common misconception", one expert tells CNBC.

The recent ACCC report Targeting Scams reveals more than 4700 people had their computers held ransom from supposed Australia Post emails, while 2224 were duped by emails claiming to be from the Australian Federal Police.

It comes after more than 200,000 victims in around 150 countries were infected by the ransomware which originated in the United Kingdom and Spain on Friday before spreading around the world.

"Unintended or not, the scale and scope of damage in this attack is unprecedented".

In Britain, some hospitals were forced to turn away patients and delay operations.

The lack of sophistication may bolster those cybersecurity researchers who say they have found evidence that could link North Korea to the attack. So far, no deaths have been reported, but that may change. If an attack were carried out by a country rather than independent hackers, those deaths could be seen acts of war. "However, Hitachi and others have mostly only reported loss of email and other secondary functionalities".

Even if these doomsday scenarios don't ultimately take place, large-scale use of ransomware presents a risky route to finances for criminal groups.

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After software vulnerabilities exploited and leaked by the NSA were used by cyber criminals to infect as many as 200,000 Windows PCs with ransomware over the last three days, Microsoft has criticized government agencies for concealing those flaws.

Such attacks can also exacerbate tensions between nation states.

The interior ministry, railways, banks and the Megafon mobile phone operator - Russia's second-largest - all found themselves battling demands for ransom. We know this, because they're demanding bitcoin - and bitcoin transactions are public.

There's no denying, of course, that Washington does share some of the blame for the spread of the attack.

Not to mention the fact that those responsible were able to borrow weaponized software code apparently created by the U.S. National Security Agency to launch the attack in the first place. Microsoft issued a security update in March that stops WannaCry and other malware in Windows 7.

Experts have warned organizations, businesses and other sectors to take required precautions and update their systems.

The logistics firm said it was "implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible", without specifying how badly it had been affected.

On Sunday, Microsoft also railed against the government for "the stockpiling of vulnerabilities", which Microsoft said is an emerging pattern in 2017. Microsoft, for one, has been calling for the greater involvement of governments via a "Digital Geneva Convention".

Academic and writer Zeynep Tufekci went further, suggesting that the world needs a "complete overhaul of how technology companies, governments and institutions operate and handle software".

Sundararajan said that on Monday the government conferred with software maker Microsoft and antivirus provider McAfee.

"A lack of funding or priority for investments will have certainly played a big part for a cash-strapped NHS", says Martin Courtney, principal analyst for TechMarketView, speaking with Computerworld UK.

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