On Friday, the world was hit by one of the biggest cyberattacks in recent history.
The culprit was “#ransomware” known as WanaCryptOr 2.0, or WannaCry. It operates by encrypting a computer system and demanding a ransom to release it. This money would be paid in the digital currency bitcoin to an unknown source, who would — in theory, at least — provide a decryption key to unlock the system. To do all this, the software exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that is thought to have been first identified by the National Security Agency and was later leaked online.
Interpol thinks that more than 200,000 people in more than 150 countries were affected — and things could get worse. Experts are warning that many office workers could return to work Monday and find their computers compromised.
The attack was a remarkable global event. It appears to have hit first in Britain, where it effectively shut down parts of the #National Health Service. But reports soon came in from all over the world. Users in China, Germany, India and the United States were among those affected.
For a few hours Friday, it seemed as if the world was facing a disruption of disaster-movie proportions. Then, just as quickly as it started, the attack was stalled by a 22-year-old British cybersecurity researcher who discovered a “kill switch” that stopped the ransomware from spreading.
The risk isn’t over. Whoever is behind the attack could update the ransomware and remove the kill switch. Some reports Sunday suggested that this has already happened.