News

Online Attacks Spread

One of the largest cyberattacks ever recorded has been sweeping through computers since Friday

May 15, 2017
ANDREW BROOKES—GETTY IMAGES

A worldwide global cyberattack has hit more than 200,000 victims in over 150 countries since May 12, 2017. 

A worldwide cyberattack spread to thousands of computers on Monday as people logged in at work. The attack, which began on May 12, is believed to be the biggest online attack ever recorded. It has disrupted business, schools, hospitals and daily life in more than 150 countries.

The cyberattacks are being done with ransomware. This is a type of software that blocks access to data until money is paid. The attack displays a message requesting payment in order to unlock it. Investigators have said it is too early to determine who is behind the attack and what their motivation is.

The ransomwear, known as “WannaCry,” holds users hostage by freezing their computers. A red screen with the words, "Oops, your files have been encrypted!" pops up and money is demanded through online payment. At first the attack demands $300 – then $600. It destroys files five hours later.

The attack has hit more than 200,000 victims across the world since Friday. It is seen as an "escalating threat," said Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, Europe's policing agency. "The numbers are still going up," Wainwright said. Many companies and government agencies on Monday were struggling to recover from the attacks.

A Global Impact

"WannaCry" has frozen computers running factories, banks, government agencies and transport systems in countries including Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Spain, India and Japan.

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) was of the first major targets of the global cyberattack. 

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS—AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) was of the first major targets of the global cyberattack. 

Britain's National Health Service (NHS) was one of the first high-profile targets of Friday’s attack. Some hospitals and doctors’ offices are still struggling to recover. The NHS says about a fifth their local offices that run hospitals and clinics were hit by the attack on Friday. This led to thousands of canceled appointments and operations.

In Asia, Friday's attack occurred after business hours. Thousands of new cases were reported on Monday as people came back to work. Chinese state media said 29,372 institutions there had been infected along with hundreds of thousands of devices.

Universities and other educational institutions in China were among the hardest hit. This is possibly because schools tend to have old computers and out-of-date operating systems, said Fang Xingdong, founder of ChinaLabs, an internet strategy think tank.

This is a screenshot of the warning screen from a cyberattack. The image, captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on a laptop in Beijing.

MARK SCHIEFELBEIN—AP
This is a screenshot of the warning screen from a cyberattack. The image, captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on a laptop in Beijing.

On social media, students in China complained about not being able to access their work. People in various cities said they hadn't been able to take their driving tests over the weekend because some local traffic police systems were down.

Railway stations, mail delivery, gas stations, hospitals, office buildings, shopping malls and government services also were affected, China's Xinhua News Agency said.

Online Crime

Experts urged organizations and companies to immediately update older Microsoft operating system. Paying ransom, or the money requested to unlock computers, will not ensure any fix, said Eiichi Moriya, a cybersecurity expert and professor at Meiji University.

"You are dealing with a criminal," he said. "It's like after a robber enters your home. You can change the locks but what has happened cannot be undone.”


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