Researcher finds 'kill switch' to global cyberattack

This is what the victim’s wallpaper is changed to following the breach
This is what the victim’s wallpaper is changed to following the breach

13 May, 2017

The cyber-attack that crippled NHS systems and forced operations to be cancelled throughout the United Kingdom on Saturday has become a bitterly contested election issue, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats blaming the crisis on the government's failure to upgrade hospital computers.

Meanwhile, a cybersecurity researcher appears to have discovered a "kill switch" that can prevent the spread of the WannaCry ransomware - for now - that has caused the cyberattacks wreaking havoc globally, they told AFP Saturday.

One of the countries that seems to have been attacked most by the ransomware is Russian Federation, but the UK's National Health Service (NHS), Spain's Telefonica wireless operator, and even the U.S.'s FedEx service have also been hit, causing significant disruption.

In the US, FedEx Corp reported that its Windows computers were "experiencing interference" from malware, but would not say if it had been hit by ransomware.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at the Helsinki-based cybersecurity company F-Secure, called the attack "the biggest ransomware outbreak in history".

The BBC broadcast a screen-shot of a message apparently sent to the National Health Service medical facilities demanding payments for unlocking computer files that had been "encrypted" by the attack.

Chris Wysopal of the software security firm Veracode said criminal organizations were probably behind the attack, given how quickly the malware spread.

Managers at many companies and other organizations have not taken steps to put proper cybersecurity systems in place despite talking about their importance, Gazeley said. Shortly after that disclosure, Microsoft announced that it had already issued software "patches", or fixes, for those holes - but many users haven't yet installed the fixes or are using older versions of Windows.

By Kaspersky Lab's count, the malware struck at least 74 countries. Several British hospitals were hit by cyber attacks on Friday, the country's health service said, forcing some to divert ambulances to other clinics and urge people not to try to contact their doctors. "It's stressful enough for someone going through recovery or treatment for cancer".

"We were the target of an attack, like what is happening in all of Europe, a large scale-attack, but none of our services were affected", a Portugal Telecom spokeswoman said. The number soon could grow much higher, because the types of medical devices that use unpatched versions of Windows will likely remain vulnerable to this attack much longer.

The ongoing situation is getting the "full attention" of the Government's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Prime Minister Theresa May said, amid suggestions outdated software left some health service systems vulnerable.

Hospitals across Britain found themselves without access to their computers or phone systems.

The statement identified the culprit as a type of malware known as Wanna Decryptor, a malware that can give hackers the ability to access to encryption-protected files.

Spain's Telefonica, a global broadband and telecommunications company, was among the companies hit.

"There's never going to be any shortage of unpatched systems or legacy systems that can not be patched", said Jim Walters, a senior research scientist at Cylance, which develops anti-virus software.

Lawless reported from London.

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