An unprecedented global cyber-attack infected computers Friday in dozens of countries — inflicting its worst harm on Britain’s National Health Service and across Russia.
The ransomware strike — a technique first developed by the U.S. National Security Agency — was unleashed without warning and created chaos across the globe.
Russia, under investigation for alleged hacking during last year’s U.S. presidential race, saw 1,000 computers at its mighty Interior Ministry targeted along with the major telecom company MegaFon.
No nation or group claimed responsibility for the mass hacking, with more than 45,000 incidents reported.
The malware, known as “Wanna Cry” or “Wanna Decryptor,” did the most damage on England’s National Health Service.
British medical patients were asked to avoid local hospitals except in emergencies, ambulance service was left in disarray, and scheduled surgeries and chemotherapy sessions were scuttled in the cyber-fallout.
Cancer patient Tom Griffith, at Bart’s Hospital in London, stared with a nurse at her frozen computer screen.
“It has a countdown clock ticking down, stating that all data would be deleted until a payment was received,” he said.
The “Eternal Blue” code used to lock up the computers was developed by the NSA and leaked by a group dubbed the “Shadow Brokers.”
Estimates put the number of countries struck at close to 100, including China, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, Argentina and the Philippines.
“This is one of the largest global ransomware attacks the cyber-community has ever seen,” said Rich Barger, director of threat research at U.S.-based security research company Splunk.
Though there were no reported problems in the U.S., Federal Express said parts of its international system were corrupted.
“Like many other companies, FedEx is experiencing interference with some of our Windows-based systems caused by malware,” said a company statement.
“We are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible.”
Ransomware locks up a computer and demands a cash payment to restore service. Social media showed photos asking for $300 to $600 in Bitcoin, an online currency.
“Ooops, you’re files have been encrypted!” read the accompanying message.
In the ransomware case that made the most news, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California paid $17,000 in February 2016 to regain its computer system from hackers.
Experts suggested the havoc inflicted Friday could embolden other hackers in the future.
“Now that the cyber-criminals know they can hit the big guys, they will start to target big corporations,” said Chris Camacho, chief strategy officer with cyber-intelligence firm Flashpoint.
“And some of them may not be well prepared for such attacks.”
With News Wire Services
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