Europol Chief: Ransomware Threat Not Over

Exploits in the hands of governments have repeatedly leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage, wrote Smith, who compared the leaks of Central Intelligence Agency and NSA vulnerabilities to the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.

In Australia, Alistair MacGibbon, special adviser to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Cyber Security, said some small businesses would likely be hit "but as a whole of nation we can be confident, so far, that we have missed the worst of this".

There are different variants of what happens: Other forms of ransomware execute programs that can lock your computer entirely, only showing a message to make payment in order to log in again.

Hospital staff immediately unplugged the computer from the internet, reformatting it before reprogramming its operating system, according to the spokesman.

The most disruptive attacks were reported in the United Kingdom, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers.The ransomware is a type of malicious software that infects a computer and restricts users' access to it until a ransom is paid to unlock it. Once it infects one computer within a network, it can spread to all the computers in that network "within seconds", said Israel Levy, the CEO of the cybersecurity firm Bufferzone.

It follows Friday's ransomware attack on NHS computers which affected 13 health bodies in Scotland.

The threat was "escalating" as cyber experts warned that another attack was imminent in coming days, he said.

An unprecedented "ransomware" cyberattack that has already hit tens of thousands of victims in 150 countries could wreak even more havoc Monday as people return to their desks and power up their computers at the start of the work week.

It issued guidance for people to protect their systems, while taking the highly unusual step of reissuing security patches first made available in March for Windows XP and other older versions of its operating system.

The government found no impact among agencies, though companies like Hitachi and Nissan Motor Co. reported problems that had not seriously affected their business operations.

Symantec said the majority of organisations affected were in Europe.

The number of ransomware-affected cases is still rising. "Otherwise they're literally fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past".

Senior US security officials held another meeting in the White House situation room on Saturday, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency were working to help mitigate damage and identify the perpetrators of the attack, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Companies around the globe are preparing for an imminent cyber attack as the offices re-open on Monday, media reports said.

Nonetheless, the experts say such widespread attacks are tough to pull off.

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