Global ransomware attack appears to slow in US

Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration

Man holds laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration

The virus tore through the Internet Friday, beginning in the United Kingdom and spread to 150 countries throughout the day.

Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, wrote: "This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem".

"This is an emerging pattern in 2017", he continued.

Though the governments and companies have been able to gain the upper hand, the ransomware could be back in a big way.

The malware encrypts data on a computer within seconds and then displays a message asking the user to pay a ransom of about R4,000, which is lower than other ransomware we have seen - but the true cost will be all the time, lost files, and other collateral damage caused by this attack.

Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability exploited in this weekend's ransomware attack last month after it surfaced on Wikileaks.

"We have not ruled that out", Bossert said Monday when asked if WannaCry was state-sponsored, "but attribution is always a little hard here".

Magid added that there should be more cooperation to prevent future attacks: "There needs to be better sharing of information between government and the private sector, especially tech companies, and obviously people need to be educated". But he disagreed about where the blame lies.

"I don't think that they should pay because they'd be supporting a criminal enterprise", O'Brien said.

A group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers said earlier this year that the NSA had tools for breaching the global system that allows for the transfer of money between banks. At that time, Microsoft had released a page to fix these vulnerabilities.

"The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake up call".

Governments "need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world", Smith says, urging agencies to "consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits". Some cybersecurity experts are wondering if the vulnerability exposed with the leaked USA government documents could be part of the attraction. The Government Digital Service did not renew the contract, leaving XP machines helpless in the face of attacks after April 2015.

Experts think it unlikely to have been one person, with criminally minded cyber crime syndicates nowadays going underground and using ever more sophisticated encryption to hide their activities.

An analysis of the ransomware on the blog of software company Check Point suggests it is highly unlikely the hackers ever meant to decrypt the files for several reasons. In other words, paying may not guarantee you can again access your files. And while Microsoft had already released a security update to patch the vulnerability one month earlier, the sequence of events fed speculation that the NSA hadn't told the US tech giant about the security risk until after it had been stolen.

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