Unprecedented global 'ransomware' attack seeks cash for data

"The U.S.is still in a relatively good place - I don't want to jinx it", the department official says.

"Hundreds of thousands" of Chinese computers at almost 30,000 institutions including government agencies have been hit by the global ransomware attack, a leading Chinese security-software provider has said, though the Asian impact has otherwise been relatively muted.

Cybersecurity experts say the unknown hackers behind the "Wannacry" attack used a vulnerability exposed in US government documents leaked online.

Referring to the attack as a "wake-up call", Microsoft's President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith wrote in a blog post that governments have "to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits".

Global shipper FedEx Corp said some of its Windows computers were also breached.

It was the first day of work after a computer virus dubbed "Wannacry" had created havoc, mainly in Europe and Russian Federation, spreading to thousands of computers and causing problems in hospitals, companies, and government agencies.

With this update, Microsoft responded to the world as it is, not the world as the company wants it to be.

The massive cyberattack ricocheting around the globe has reignited a debate: When should spy agencies disclose security vulnerabilities in companies' software? The tools behind the attacks reportedly belonged to the U.S. National Security Agency, according to security experts.

The investigations into the attack were in the early stages, however, and attribution for cyberattacks is notoriously hard. He added that the EternalBlue exploit of Windows that the malware uses to spread was already known and accordingly the systems run by the National Informatics Centre, which maintains the government's online infrastructure, were secure. Although Microsoft released fixes in March, the attackers counted on many organizations not getting around to applying those fixes.

Code for exploiting that bug, which is known as "Eternal Blue", was released on the internet last month by a hacking group known as the Shadow Brokers.

But the big second-wave outbreak that many feared they would see when users returned to their offices Monday morning and switched their computers back on failed to materialize.

The worm is primarily impacting business, where it can spread quickly through a network to take down an entire company.

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel at the ACLU, said the ransomware attack raises questions about agencies stockpiling vulnerabilities instead of responsibly disclosing them.

Targets both large and small have been hit.

In Japan, a spokesman for conglomerate Hitachi said on Monday that the company's computer networks were "unstable", crippling its email systems.

In England, 48 National Health Service (NHS) trusts fell victim, as did 13 NHS bodies in Scotland. Seeing businesses and individuals affected by cyberattacks, like the ones reported today, was painful. And it's expected to cause more problems on Monday. Doctors and staff were locked out of viewing patent records because all the information on their systems had become encrypted, with a ransom demand to pay $300 in Bitcoin.

On Friday, a security researcher inadvertently created a "kill switch" to help stop the spread of this ransomware. Another security researcher, Benkow was also able to find a new variant.

Experts say the spread of the virus had been stymied by a security researcher in the United Kingdom hackers have issued new versions of the virus that cyber security organizations are actively trying to counter and stamp out.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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