(Via ABC News)
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies say the number of reported cyberattacks using the “WannaCry” virus continues to grow, and the head of the joint European law enforcement agency, Europol, tells ABC News the worst may be yet to come.
“It might be sitting on many computers in sectors, in companies over the weekend and when they’re switched on again Monday morning we might see the infection rates going back up,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright said.
The unprecedented global ransomware attack that started Friday has hit more than 200,000 companies, hospitals, government agencies and other organizations in 150 countries, the European Union’s law enforcement agency said.
The attackers are believed to have used tools developed by the National Security Agency that were leaked to the public by the hacker group The Shadow Brokers in April to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, the world’s most popular operating system.
“It’s one of the most significant cyberattacks that we’ve seen,” Wainwright said. “We’ve never seen anything in this scale …It’s a wakeup call, I think, to many sectors around the need to take cyber security absolutely seriously as a top line strategic priority.”
Tens of thousands of users from London to St. Petersburg logged on Friday to find ominous threats to delete their suddenly encrypted computer files, unless they cough up $300 or more in Bitcoin payments to the unknown perpetrators, security experts and intelligence officials told ABC News on Saturday. A message saying “Oops, your important files are encrypted,” flashed across screens all over the world.
While The New York Times reported that experts initially estimated that the cybercriminals could collect more than $1 billion, so far the number of targets to pay up is remarkably low, Wainwright says.
“I think 20, 30 thousand dollars’ worth of dollars only,” Wainwright said. “I would never recommend you pay a ransom because you’re dealing with a bunch of crooks. You never know that they’re going to do what they promise anyway.”
The spread of the attack appears to have been thwarted by private cybersecurity researchers who identified and triggered the malware’s “kill switch,” which halted the attacks before it spread throughout U.S. networks, a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed, but it is unclear whether, the official said, a modified attack will soon be launched.