Ransomware Cyber-Attack A Wake-Up Call, Microsoft Warns

Ransomware Cyber-Attack A Wake-Up Call, Microsoft Warns

Reuters reported that employees of Britain's National Health Service were warned about the ransomware threat earlier Friday.

"Affected machines have six hours to pay up and every few hours the ransom goes up", said Kurt Baumgartner, the principal security researcher at security firm Kaspersky Lab. "We've seen that the slowdown of the infection rate over Friday night, after a temporary fix around it, has now been overcome by a second variation the criminals have released".

The malware was circulated by e-mail; targets were sent an encrypted, compressed file that, once loaded, allowed the ransomware to infiltrate its targets.

The attack is a virus that locks people out of their computer files until they pay a ransom to the hackers.

"I still expect another to pop up and be fully operational", Kalember said. So far approximately 200,000 computers in over 150 countries have been impacted, making this the largest worldwide ransomware attack to date. The perpetrators demand money in return for unlocking encrypted data.

The attack on the National Health Service seemed perhaps the most audacious of the attacks, because it had life-or-death implications for hospitals and ambulance services.

Chinese media reported on Sunday that students at several universities were hit, blocking access to their thesis papers and dissertation presentations.

Had it not been for a young British cybersecurity researcher's accidental discovery of a so-called "kill switch", the malicious software likely would have spread much farther and faster.

But security minister Ben Wallace said the Government had put £1.2 billion into combating cyber attacks during the last strategic defence and security review, including a £50 million pot to support NHS IT networks. That cheap move redirected the attacks to MalwareTech's server, which operates as a "sinkhole" to keep malware from escaping.

NHS Digital, which oversees United Kingdom hospital cybersecurity, says the attack used the Wanna Decryptor variant of malware, which infects and locks computers while the attackers demand a ransom. They, too, should regularly update with software patches as they're issued. "It should just be a case of making sure installing updates is enabled, installing the updates, and reboot".

The malicious software behind the onslaught appeared to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that was supposedly identified by the National Security Agency for its own intelligence-gathering purposes and was later leaked to the internet. The NSA tools were stolen by hackers and dumped on the internet.

With ransomware attacks on the rise and now crescendoing with this most recent attack, we can only hope that IT departments will soon get the resources they need to keep their systems and networks secure from future attacks.

"The big thing out here is the fact that ransomware was coupled with a spreading mechanism which impacted organizational networks", Vikram Thakur, technical director at Symantec (SYMC), said regarding the ransomware wave.

Microsoft said it had taken the "highly unusual step" of releasing a patch for computers running older operating systems including Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003.

The massive ransomware attacks that started late Friday have locked people out of their computers and demanded hundreds of dollars from the users before they could regain control.

"Do not leave external storage used for backups connected to your computer to eliminate the risk of infecting your backups".

According to Singh, this was not the first time a ransomware has hit the systems globally, where the elite class of hackers have used the tools of NSA of the U.S. government, which were leaked by WikiLeaks and other similar organisations. "Otherwise they're literally fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past". "It's a handy thing to have, but it's a risky thing to have".

"You can buy these things and launch them".

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