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Global cyberattack hits 99 countries

13 May 2017

Up to 99 countries may have been affected by the ransomware cyberattack that has struck the NHS, according to some experts, reported Sky News.

Russian Federation appeared to be the hardest hit nation, with its interior and emergencies ministries and biggest bank, Sberbank, saying they were targeted. She said less than 1% of its computers were affected, and that the virus is now "localized".

In Spain, some big firms took pre-emptive steps to thwart ransomware attacks following a warning from Spain's National Cryptology Centre of "a massive ransomware attack".

The ransomware attack is at "unprecedented level and requires worldwide investigation", Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, said on Twitter.

"Unlike most other attacks, this malware is spreading primarily by direct infection from machine to machine on local networks, rather than purely by email", Lance Cottrell, chief scientist at the USA technology group Ntrepid.

"So it's definitely one of those things we've always heard about that could happen and now we're seeing it play out".

It is feared computers in A&E wards, GP surgeries and other vital services across the NHS were infected with a virus based on hacking tools developed by USA cyber warfare agents.

Mikko Hypponen, from tech firm F-Secure, called it "the biggest ransomware outbreak in history".

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Microsoft has meanwhile said that they rolled out a patch to fix the issue, but certain targets, including the hospitals in Britain, had not yet updated their systems.

Spain's industry ministry said the attack affected the Microsoft Windows operating system of employees' computers.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that infects a computer and restricts users' access to it until a ransom is paid to unlock it. Individuals and organisations are discouraged from paying the ransom, as this does not guarantee access will be restored, USCERT said.

Anne Rainsberry, NHS incident director, said: "We are asking people to use the NHS wisely while we deal with this major incident, which is still ongoing".

"The key question" to consider is how an attack such as Friday's could originate "from a noncritical system such as email" and then spread to other systems, said Awais Rashid, a professor of software engineering at Lancaster University.

In the US, FedEx reported its Windows computers were "experiencing interference" from malware, but would not say if it had been hit by ransomware.

Chris Wysopal of the software security firm Veracode said criminal organisations were probably behind the attack, given how quickly the malware spread.

Forcepoint Security Labs said that "a major malicious email campaign" consisting of almost five million emails per hour was spreading the new ransomware.

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He said many NHS hospitals in Britain use Windows XP software, introduced in 2001, and as government funding for the health service has been squeezed, "IT budgets are often one of the first ones to be reduced".

Many security researchers are linking the incidents together.

To decode the files, hackers were demanding $300, an amount they claimed would double in three days - or data would be destroyed.

Friday's attacks came via a technique used by hackers that locks a user's files unless they pay the attackers in bitcoin.

Cyber attacks that hit 99 countries across Europe and Asia on Friday, impacting the public health system in Britain, apparently involved a leaked hacking tool from the National Security Agency.

At least 30 health service organisations in England and Scotland were affected by the hack attack, while others shut down servers as a precautionary measure to avoid contagion.

Authorities said they were communicating with more than 100 energy, transportation, telecommunications and financial services providers about the attack.

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