UK broadcast news and online news sites have been dominated for most of the day by the cyber attack that has affected government and business computer systems. Most disturbing consequence of the attack, which hijacks computer screens with a message that files have been encrypted and can only be unlocked on payment of a large fee (a type of malware known as Ransomware) is fact that hospitals across the United Kingdom had gone dark , locking staff out of patient records and appointment systems..
The situation has got significantly worse as The BBC reports the ransomware attack has gone global.
Screenshots showing a message put out by a popular screen hijacker app show a program that locks computers and demands a payment in Bitcoin have been posted online by organisations hit by the attack.
It is not yet clear whether the attacks are all connected. One cyber-security consultant tweeted that he had detected 36,000 instances of the ransomware, called WannaCry and variants of that name.
“This is huge,” he said.
There have been reports of infections in the UK, US, China, Russia, Spain, Italy, Vietnam, Taiwan and others.
The BBB details a number of Spanish firms including some of the biggest businesses in spain were among the apparent victims elsewhere in Europe.
Telecoms giant Telefonica said in a statement that it was aware of a “cybersecurity incident” but that clients and services had not been affected.
Power firm Iberdrola and utility provider Gas Natural were also reported to have suffered from the outbreak.
There were reports that staff at the firms were told to turn off their computers.
In Italy, one user shared images appearing to show a university computer lab with machines locked by the same program.
Bitcoin wallets seemingly associated with the ransomware were reported to have already started filling up with cash.
“This is a major cyber attack, impacting organisations across Europe at a scale I’ve never seen before,” said security architect Kevin Beaumont.
According to security firm Check Point, the version of the ransomware that appeared today is a new variant.
Several experts monitoring the situation have linked the attacks to vulnerabilities released by a group known as The Shadow Brokers, which recently claimed to have dumped hacking tools stolen from the NSA.
An attack such as this has been inevitable due to the inherent vulnerabilities of the world wide web (conceived by an amateur, remember) and the near monopoly of the Windows operating system and Google search engine that has been encouraged by governments of the USA, the EU and most leading nations of the free world.
While it’s true that things are much more convenient if we all use the same computer systems, convenience is a double edged sword. What’s convenient for the lay user is even more convenient for cyber criminals who are rogue programmers and analysts.
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