A ransomware known as “WannaCry” affected 200,000 people in 150 countries over the weekend, locking computer files and demanding payment to release them. As of this morning, Australia and New Zealand users seem to have avoided the brunt of the attack, with the Federal Government only confirming three reports of Australian companies being affected. Not that ransomware attacks tend to be the subject of reporting – there is quite a high rate of payment of affected users as the pricing is deliberately cheaper than most alternatives unless your back-up process is very good.
The ransomware utilises vulnerabilities in out-of-date, unpatched versions of Microsoft Windows to infect devices. It spreads from computer for computer as it finds exposed targets, without the user having to open an e-mail attachment or click a link as is commonplace in most attacks. Ransom demands start at US$300 and doubles after three days.
The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) was among the worst hit organisations, forcing hospitals to cancel appointments and delay operations as they could not access their patients’ medical records. The Telegraph suggested that 90 percent of NHS trusts were using a 16 year old version of Windows XP which was particularly vulnerable to the attack. More attacks are anticipated throughout the working week as companies and organisations turn on their devices.
The U.K. National Cyber Security Center has released guidance to help both home users and organisations limit the impact of the attacks. It can be read here.
Edwin Tan is co-author of this article.