While American media attention has largely been focused on last year’s Russian hack of America’s presidential election, one of the largest global hacking attacks in history broke out this weekend. 57,000 computers from over 70 countries (so far) falling prey to cyber-warfare stolen from none other than the United States National Security Agency.
The worm, called “Wanna-Cry” or “Wanna Decrypter,” has encrypted the computers of universities, hospitals, businesses such as FedEx and Nissan, government agencies, as well as home computers.
The virus essentially locks users out of their computer and displays an ominous timer. Users then have three days to pay the hackers $300 to retrieve their information or else the price doubles. If users do not pay by the end of seven days, their information is permanently deleted.
The attack comes less than a month after a near-identical cyber-weapon designed by the NSA was leaked by an anonymous group calling themselves the “Shadow Brokers” last April.
“This is as big as it gets,” said researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey after the leak. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyber-weapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”
A ransomware spreading in the lab at the university pic.twitter.com/8dROVXXkQv
— １２Ｂ (@dodicin) May 12, 2017
The ransomware has crippled organizations all over the world, but perhaps none more perilously than Britain’s National Health Service, with 45 hospitals, doctor’s offices, and ambulance companies so paralyzed that surgical procedures, emergency rooms, and vital x-ray, MRI, and CT scans had to be cancelled.
The bug targets Windows users who have failed to keep up with current software updates. Utilizing the March update of Microsoft’s free antivirus software should protect otherwise-vulnerable devices, according to Microsoft.
Some experts expect the hackers to run off with up to $1 billion by the time the attack concludes. Government officials are undertaking investigations into the identities of the hackers, but admit that the process could take months to produce results, if any results are produced at all.
“Ransomware like this has been on the rise over the last 18 months,” said cyber-security expert Paul Bantick. “This represents the next step that people were expecting.”
This new global attack is sure to further-inflame criticism of the secretive NSA’s Vulnerabilities Equity Process, which the NSA utilizes to decide whether it should share security weaknesses it discovers to those affected or keep the information tucked away for potential strategic advantage.
“Today’s ransomware attack is being made possible because of past work undertaken by the NSA,” Christopher Parsons, a researcher at the University of Toronto, told the Intercept. “Ideally it would lead to more disclosures that would improve the security of devices globally.”
Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. His less-political Youtube channel can be found here. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW