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Up to 74 countries affected in ransomware cyber attack

13 May 2017

Hackers used tools apparently stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency to cripple hospitals across England Friday, forcing doctors to turn away patients in what the United Kingdom's Prime Minister Theresa May says was just one part of a widespread worldwide assault.

Health workers reported being locked out of their systems and seeing messages demanding ransom payments to regain access. More than 57,000 computers across 74 countries, including Spain, Portugal, Russia, and Taiwan, were rapidly infected by similar ransomware Friday, researchers found.

At least 16 organizations connected to the National Health Service in England and an unknown number in Scotland reported being affected.

NHS Digital said the attack, believed to have been caused by a malware variant, did not specifically target the NHS and it is also affecting various sectors.

And, we are not aware of any evidence that patient data has been compromised.

The scope of the attacks was not immediately clear, but some analysts reported that dozens of countries had been affected, with the malware linked to attacks on hospitals in Britain as well as the Spanish telecom giant Telefonica and the USA delivery firm FedEx.

FedEx and Spain's telecommunications giant Telefonica were also reportedly targeted, but so far, the attack doesn't appear to have actually affected their services.

A prominent computer security expert, Chris Wysopa, who is cofounder of the application security company Veracode, in Burlington, Massachusetts, said in a tweet that the WanaCrypt0r ransomware epidemic may be an indicator of how powerful some NSA hacking tools are. A spokeswoman for the ministry told Interfax that around 1,000 computers at the ministry have been affected.

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"Seeing a large telco like Telefonica get hit is going to get everybody anxious".

Spain's Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda confirms the intrusion, describing it as "punctual attacks".

Now comes word that networks around the world are under attack Friday. He said that mobile communications haven't been affected.

Security experts are still trying to get their arms around the problem.

Alan Woodward, visiting professor of computing at the University of Surrey, said there was evidence the ransomware was spreading using a Microsoft flaw exposed in a recent leak of information from US intelligence agencies.

It spreads from computer to computer as it finds exposed targets. "The only sensible way to tackle it is to "pull the plug" so that it can't spread any more until you can isolate the affected machines and work out a remediation plan".

Although Microsoft released a security patch for the flaw earlier this year, many systems have yet to be updated, researchers said.

He added, "It is a awful lesson about why using supported software, and keeping that software updated, is so important".

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The attacks are being blamed on a piece of malware called WCry, WannaCry, or Wana Decryptor, that's been tracked in large-scale attacks in Europe and Asia - particularly Russian Federation and China - and a scattering of attacks in the USA and South America, according to a map on the Malware Tech site.

Hackers exploiting data stolen from the US government conducted extensive cyberattacks on Friday that hit dozens of countries around the world, severely disrupting Britain's public health system and wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers elsewhere, including Russia's ministry for internal security.

The National Cyber Security Centre, part of the GCHQ electronic intelligence agency, said it was working with police and the health system to investigate the attack.

As not all ransomware provides this timer countdown, said the team, the WannaCry attack shows computer users that "payment will be raised" after a specific countdown, along with another display raising urgency to pay up, threatening that the user will completely lose their files after the set timeout.

A spokesman for Barts Health NHS Trust in London said it was experiencing "major IT disruption" and delays at all four of its hospitals.

It had to cancel routine appointments and ambulances were being diverted to neighboring hospitals, Barts said.

At St. Bartholomew's Hospital in central London, Sean, who did not want to give his last name, said he noticed problems with the network as soon as he arrived. Some chemotherapy patients were even sent home because their records could not be accessed. He told CNN it appeared as if they had been deleted.

Hackers hit dozens of countries exploiting stolen NSA tool
This is not targeted at the NHS, it's an worldwide attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected. A global cyber-attack demanding ransom has infected over 70 countries including reports of hackings here in New Zealand.