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An alert researcher, cooperation helped stem cyberattack

14 May 2017

Britain's National Cyber Security Centre and its National Crime Agency were looking into the United Kingdom incidents, which disrupted care at National Health Service facilities, forcing ambulances to divert and hospitals to postpone operations. Two security firms - Kaspersky Lab and Avast - said they identified the malicious software in more than 70 countries.

May 13 The British government does not yet know who was behind Friday's global cyber attack that disrupted the country's health system, interior minister Amber Rudd said on Saturday. In Russia, where a wide array of systems came under attack, officials said services had been restored or the virus contained.

In a post on its website, Britain's National Cyber Security Center said that by registering a domain name that unexpectedly stopped the spread of the malware, the anonymous Britain-based cyber specialist, known as Malware Tech, had prevented further infections and "already resulted in preventing over 100,000 potential infections".

Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief strategy officer of worldwide internet gateway Fibre@Home, told The Daily Star that they had no information on massive attack in the country, except some individual cases. Most of the affected hospitals were in England, but several facilities in Scotland also reported being hit.

Security experts say a cyberattack that holds computer data for ransom grew out of vulnerabilities purportedly identified by the National Security Agency. Renault's futuristic assembly line in Slovenia, where rows of robots weld vehicle bodies together, was stopped cold.

The Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda says the attack Friday affected the Windows operating system of employees' computers in several companies.

Russia's interior ministry said that some of its computers had been hit by a "virus attack" and that efforts were underway to destroy it.

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Infosec expert Ori Eisen believes that Friday's attack will be considered "child's play" when compared to future assaults, which could affect nuclear power plants, dams or rail systems.

Britain's National Health Service said hospitals across England were hit by an apparent "ransomware" attack, but there was no immediate evidence that patient data had been accessed.

The railway said that there was no impact on actual train services. Hackers said they stole the tools from the NSA and dumped them on the internet.

A young cybersecurity researcher has been credited with helping to halt the ransomware's spread by accidentally activating a so-called "kill switch" in the malicious software.

The ransomware impacted almost 20 percent of the U.K.'s 248 public health trusts on Friday. Russia's central bank said Saturday that no incidents were "compromising the data resources" of Russian banks.

In March Microsoft itself advised its customers about the attack and released a software update for Windows 10, said Barkatullah.

The security loopholes were disclosed several weeks ago by the group The Shadow Brokers.

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The kill switch also couldn't help those already infected. Microsoft swiftly announced that it had already issued software "patches" to fix those holes, but many users haven't yet installed updates or still use older versions of Windows.

Security experts said the attack appeared to be caused by a self-replicating piece of software that enters companies and organizations when employees click on email attachments, then spreads quickly internally from computer to computer when employees share documents.

Krishna Chinthapalli, a doctor at Britain's National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery who wrote a paper on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal, said many British hospitals still use Windows XP software, introduced in 2001.

The pictures also said: "ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

In Russia, government agencies insisted that all attacks had been resolved.

NHS Digital said the attack "was not specifically targeted at the NHS and is affecting organizations from across a range of sectors".

Germany's national railway says departure and arrival display screens at its stations were affected Friday night, but there was no impact on train services.

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Elsewhere in Europe, the attack hit Spain's Telefonica, a global broadband and telecommunications company, and knocked ticketing offline for Norway's IF Odd, a 132-year-old soccer club.