Global extortion cyberattack hits dozens of nations

A "ransomware" attack on 16 health organisations in England and Scotland today plunged the NHS into chaos, with similar attacks affected Spanish telecom giant Telefonica and U.S. delivery firm FedEx. It is an global attack.

Spain's National Center for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure said it was communicating with more than 100 providers of energy, transportation, telecommunications and financial services about the attack even if basic services had not suffered any disruption. "Now ransomware is affecting larger companies with more sophisticated security operations", said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer with cyber security firm Veracode. CNN has not independently confirmed that number.

At least 16 organisations within the NHS, some of them responsible for several hospitals each, reported being targeted.

NHS Digital, which runs the health service's IT systems, said it had identified the malware software known as WannaCry, also known as Wanna Decryptor, which appears to be requesting $300 from victims to decrypt their computers. It said it was working to resolve the problem.

A worldwide ransomware campaign using a stolen NSA hacking tool is now underway, consisting of more than 45,000 attacks in 74 countries, including the crippling of Britain's main healthcare system, Spain's Telefonica and Russia's MegaFon, according to global media reports and Kaspersky Lab.

The Spanish government says several companies have been targeted in ransomware cyberattacks.

Across the USA federal government, about 90 percent of all spending on cyber programs is dedicated to offensive efforts, including penetrating the computer systems of adversaries, listening to communications and developing the means to disable or degrade infrastructure, senior intelligence officials told Reuters in March.

Users should also look for malicious email messages that often masquerade as emails from companies or people you regularly interact with online.

"Both staff and patients were frankly pretty appalled that somebody, whoever they are, for commercial gain or otherwise, would attack a health care organisation", he said.

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Britain's health's secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was briefed by cyber security experts, while Prime Minister Theresa May's office said she was monitoring the situation.

According to Alan Woodward, a visiting professor of computing at the University of Surrey, this particular malware emerged in February, and it has one objective: "to extort money in return for releasing the data it has encrypted". Reuters reported that around 1,000 computers at the Russian Interior Ministry were affected by the huge cyberattack. "The only sensible way to tackle it is to "pull the plug" so that it can't spread any more until you can isolate the affected machines and work out a remediation plan".

He added, "It is a terrible lesson about why using supported software, and keeping that software updated, is so important".

Malware is a general term that refers to software that's harmful to your computer, said John Villasenor, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Romania's intelligence service says it has intercepted an attempted cyberattack on a government institution which it said likely came from cybercriminal group APT28 also known as Fancy Bear.

The US Department of Homeland Security's computer emergency response team said it was aware of ransomware infections "in several countries around the world".

It said that the NHS did not appear to have been the main target of the attack.

A statement released by Colchester General Hospital said: "On Friday the trust experienced a major IT problem, believed to have been caused by the cyberattack". Many canceled all routine procedures and asked patients not to come to the hospitals unless it was an emergency.

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