The international ransomware cyberattack has so far hit more than 100,000 organizations in at least 150 countries, says Europol, the European Union’s police agency.
Spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth said Sunday that the number of individuals who have fallen victim to the cyberextortion attack could be much higher.
He said it was too early to say who is behind the onslaught and what their motivation was. He said the main challenge was the fast-spreading capabilities of the malware, but added that, so far, not many people have paid the ransoms that the virus demands.
He warned that more people may be hit by the virus Monday when they return to work and switch on their computers.
The attack, which began Friday, is believed to be the biggest online extortion attack ever recorded, with victims including Britain’s hospital network and Germany’s national railway.
Chinese media reported Sunday that the “ransomware” virus attacked many university networks in China. The Beijing News said that students at several universities around the country reported being hit by the virus, which blocked access to their thesis papers and dissertation presentations.
The cyberattack was stemmed by a young British researcher and an inexpensive domain registration, with help from another 20-something security engineer in the U.S.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Center and others were hailing the cybersecurity researcher, a 22-year-old identified online only as MalwareTech, who unintentionally at first discovered a “kill switch” that halted the unprecedented outbreak.
By then, the “ransomware” attack had hobbled Britain’s hospital network and computer systems in several countries, in an effort to extort money from computer users. It disrupted computers that run factories, banks, government agencies and transport systems. It crippled the British health care system for a day, infecting nearly 20 percent of its health care groups, forcing medical treatments to be canceled or postponed for thousands of people.
Spain’s telephone system was among the first targeted. Russia’s largest mobile phone company was hit, and FedEx announced it was also infected.
Hackers tricked victims into opening corrupt links in emails disguised as invoices and security warnings. The attack held entities hostage by freezing computers, encrypting data and demanding money through online bitcoin payments. By encrypting files, hackers rendered them unreadable, and demanded $300 in ransom to decode them. The amount would double after three days. If ignored, hackers warned, the data would be destroyed, Vigliotti reported.
As terrifying as the unprecedented global “ransomware” attack was, cybersecurity experts say it’s nothing compared to what might be coming especially if companies and governments don’t make major fixes.