Cyber attack is biggest of its kind ever launched, say security chiefs

"Almost every organisation-large or small-is vulnerable to ransomware but we are starting to see more public outings of bigger, more high profile attacks hitting the headlines suggesting that the worst is yet to come".

The attack looks like this: images appear on victims' screens demanding payment of $300 (275 euros) in the virtual currency Bitcoin, saying: "Ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

A July report presented to Hunt said that "computer hardware and software that can no longer be supported should be replaced as a matter of urgency". The victims, the official says, range widely in scope, from a few computers at companies and organizations to networks of many more. The hackers were using tools stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency and released on the internet.

On social media students complained about not being able to access their work, and 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.

The security firm Kaspersky Lab, based in Russian Federation, noted that Microsoft had repaired the software problem that allows backdoor entry into its operating systems weeks before hackers published the exploit linked to the NSA, but also said: "Unfortunately it appears that many users have not yet installed the patch".

"Security companies are often criticised for fear mongering and exaggerating the possible consequences of a cyber-attack".

"More than 40,000 businesses and institutions in China have been struck by the malware, according to state media", Rob says. Cases have been reported in 150 countries, and include Chinese gas stations, Japanese broadcasters, Indonesian and British hospitals, and German railways. "On China's most prestigious college campuses, students reported being locked out of their final papers". It spread to so many computers so rapidly by using an exploit - software capable of burrowing unseen into Windows computer operating systems.

The Timico and Datto research also found that 85% of those firms that had been hit by a ransomware attack suffered disruption for at least a week and had a negative financial impact because of the problems.

Malware-tracking maps show WannaCry has remained active in Europe over the past 24 hours. After "WannaCry", it released an emergency patch for older systems too.

A large-scale global investigation has been launched as police attempt to identify the perpetrators of the attack.

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, described what happened as a "powerful reminder" of the importance of updating software. He says that when the NSA lost control of the software behind the cyberattack, it was like "the USA military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen".

A security expert in England has been hailed as an "accidental hero" for quashing the spread of the initial version of the ransomware late Friday. A researcher who uses the online alias MalwareTech quickly realized that this could be used as a kill switch and registered the domain himself to slow down the spread of the ransomware. It appears a move by a security researcher to register an address on the Internet that fooled the virus has blunted its momentum. "The cat-and-mouse will likely continue until some makes a larger change to the malware, removing the kill-switch functionality completely".

Flexera published research showing nearly 9.9 per cent of Australian PC users had unpatched Windows operating systems in the first quarter of 2017, which was worse than the 7.5 per cent last quarter and 5.9 per cent this time previous year.

The exploit, known as "EternalBlue" or "MS17-010", took advantage of a vulnerability in the Microsoft software that reportedly had been discovered and developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, which used it for surveillance activities. The best solution is to restore all your files from a backup, which you have hopefully been doing regularly in the past. Users who keep their patches up-to-date - admittedly, a hard task in environments where patches may interfere with the operation of legacy software, or those who still run unsupported operating systems - are at less risk. And remember that any account can be compromised. That's because it's a very easy way to make money. Stay away from file extensions like '.exe', '.vbs' and '.scr'.

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