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Image: Christoph Scholz
The world’s biggest ransomware attack levelled off in Europe on Monday thanks to a pushback by cyber security officials after causing havoc in 150 countries, as Microsoft urged governments to heed the “wake-up call”. The cross-border police agency Europol said the situation was “stable”, easing fears that attacks that struck computers in British hospital wards, European car factories and Russian banks would spread further at the start of the working week.
“The number of victims appears not to have gone up and so far the situation seems stable in Europe, which is a success,” senior spokesman for Europol, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told AFP. “It seems that a lot of internet security guys over the weekend did their homework and ran the security software updates,” he said. The indiscriminate attack was unleashed Friday, striking hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide by exploiting known vulnerabilities in older Microsoft computer operating systems.
Like stealing missiles
rad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post Sunday that it was in fact the NSA that developed the code being used in the attack. He warned governments against stockpiling such vulnerabilities and said instead they should report them to manufacturers — not sell, store or exploit them, lest they fall into the wrong hands. “An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen,” Smith wrote.
“The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake up call.” US package delivery giant FedEx, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail network were among those hit in the attacks, which demanded money to allow users to unblock their computers. In China, “hundreds of thousands” of computers were affected, including petrol stations, cash machines and universities, according to Qihoo 360, one of China’s largest providers of antivirus software.
French carmaker Renault said its Douai plant, one of its biggest sites in France employing 5,500 people, would be shut on Monday as systems were upgraded.
Europol executive director Rob Wainwright told Britain’s ITV television on Sunday that the attack had been “unprecedented”. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
‘Ooops’ message, $300 ransom
The attack blocks computers and puts up images on victims’ screens demanding payment of $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: “Ooops, your files have been encrypted!” Payment is demanded within three days or the price is doubled, and if none is received within seven days the locked files will be deleted, according to the screen message. Bitcoin, the world’s most-used virtual currency, allows anonymous transactions via heavily encrypted codes.
Experts and governments alike warn against ceding to the demands and Wainwright said few victims so far had been paying up. Security firm Digital Shadows said on Sunday that transactions totalling $32,000 had taken place through Bitcoin addresses used by the ransomware. The culprits used a digital code believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency — and subsequently leaked as part of a document dump, according to researchers at the Moscow-based computer security firm Kaspersky Lab.
A hacking group called Shadow Brokers released the malware in April, claiming to have discovered the flaw from the NSA, Kaspersky said. The attack is unique, according to Europol, because it combines ransomware with a worm function, meaning once one machine is infected, the entire internal network is scanned and other vulnerable machines are infected. The attack therefore spread faster than previous, smaller-scale ransomware attacks.