Huge Ransomware Attack in Nearly 100 Countries

Major companies, government offices and hospitals were hit by a huge wave of cyberattacks around the world that take control of computers until victims paid a big ransom.

On Friday, Avast a cybersecurity company said it had tracked over 75,000 ransomware attacks across 99 countries. The company said most of the attacks had targeted Taiwan, Ukraine and Russia. However, hospital across the UK, and international firms such as FedEx also reported they were attacked as well.

The ransomware is known as WannaCry and it locks down files on a computer that becomes infected and asks the administrator of the computer to pay a ransom to regain control of the files.

The exploit was leaked in April as part of a group of spy tools from NSA.

The ransomware takes advantage of a vulnerability in Windows to spread. Microsoft released in March a security patch to protect against the ransomware but computers that did not update systems remained at risk.

Following the attack, Microsoft announced that it took a very unusual step of releasing a new patch for computers operated by older operating systems such as Windows 8, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP.

The affected machine has six hours to make the payment and every couple of hours, the ransom increases, said a lead security researcher for an online cybersecurity company. The researcher said it appears most businesses hit had paid out the initial ransom of $300 within the first few hours.

Sixteen UK National Health Services organizations were hit and some hospitals hit canceled appointments for outpatient care and told people they should avoid the emergency room if at all possible.

Spanish telecom behemoth Telefonica was hit as well. Authorities in Spain confirmed that ransomware was spreading through the Windows vulnerability known as EternalBlue and had advised people they needed to patch it.

One security specialist in the UK said the ransomware would continue spreading within organization’s internal systems and is turning into the largest incident of cybersecurity ever seen.

The Interior Ministry in Russia released a prepared statement that acknowledged the ransomware attack on its systems adding that 1% of its computers had been affected and that the virus had been localized.

Homeland Security in the U.S. late Friday released a statement that encouraged people to update operating systems.

One computer specialist said the security attack did not surprise him and show organizations do not apply the new updates on a timely basis.

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