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Cyber attacks hit 200000 victims in 150-plus countries: Europol

22 May 2017

Microsoft said it had taken the "highly unusual step" of releasing a patch for computers running older operating systems.

The malicious software used in the attack, which has the ability to automatically spread across large networks by exploiting a known bug in Microsoft's Windows operating system, was stolen from the US National Security Agency. The bug had only affected Windows systems, as the malware used a Microsoft update to "spread across networks".

Microsoft's lawyer says governments should "report vulnerabilities" that they discover to software companies, "rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them". The only thing is that not numerous users always keep their versions up to date because you know how annoying the Windows updates are.

He said most people "are living an online life", and these agencies have a duty to protect their countries' citizens in that realm as well.

The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers on Friday.

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The ransomware, called "WannaCry", locks down all the files on an infected computer and asks the computer's administrator to pay in order to regain control of them.

So, in case you needed another reminder, update your software often.

The wave of cyberattacks that wreaked havoc in nearly a hundred countries, including India, since Friday is "at an unprecedented level", according to European Union's law enforcement agency Europol. "There's always more we can all do to make sure we're secure against viruses, but I think there have already been good preparations in place by the NHS to make sure they were ready for this sort of attack".

Computer users worldwide - and everyone else who depends on them - should assume that the next big "ransomware" attack has already been launched, and just hasn't manifested itself yet, said Ori Eisen, founder of the Trusona cybersecurity firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Guardian newspaper reported Saturday that a 22-year-old Britain-based researcher had been credited with helping to halt the spread of the ransomware by accidentally activating a so-called "kill switch" in the malicious software.

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The researcher, tweeting as @MalwareTechBlog, said registering a domain name used by the malware stops it from spreading, though it can not help computers already affected.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, at a meeting in Italy, said Saturday the attack was a reminder of the importance of cybersecurity. Russia's national railway system said it was attacked but rail operations were unaffected.

Elsewhere in Europe, the attack hit companies including Spain's Telefonica, a global broadband and telecommunications company.

It was too early to say who was behind the onslaught, which struck 100,000 organizations, and what their motivation was, aside from the obvious demand for money. All sectors of the economy were vulnerable and organizations could take lessons from the banking industry, which appeared to have largely escaped the global attack. Here, you'll find information on how to apply a security patch.

"Ransomware becomes particularly nasty when it infects institutions like hospitals, where it can put people's lives in danger", said Kroustek, the Avast analyst.

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