Hackers using software tools developed by US National Security Agency have made cyber attacks Friday on many countries, disrupting global shipper FedEx, Britain’s health system and freezing computers at Russia’s Interior Ministry.
Transmitted via email, the malicious software locked British hospitals out of their computer systems and demanded ransom before users could be let back in., The New York Times reported Friday.
There was also a threat that data would be destroyed if the demands were not met. By late Friday the attacks had spread to more than 74 countries, security firms said.
"Russia was the worst-hit, followed by Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Reports of attacks also came from Latin America and Africa."Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity firm, said.
The attacks began with a simple phishing email, similar to the one Russian hackers used in the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other targets last year, Security experts said.
They then quickly spread through victims’ systems using a hacking method that the N.S.A. has developed as part of its arsenal of cyberweapons, the experts added.
Atlast they encrypted the computer systems of the victims, locking them out of critical data, including patient records in Britain.
The ransomware encrypted data on the computers, demanding payments of $300 to $600 to restore access. “We observed some victims paying via the digital currency bitcoin, though unclear what percent had given in to the extortionists.” Security researchers said.
“We observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets.” Researchers of security software Avast said. Few secondary schools and universities had been affected China's official Xinhua news agency said.
International shipper FedEx Corp said some of its Windows computers were also infected. "We are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible," it said in a statement.
Only few US-headquartered organizations were hit because the hackers appear to have begun the campaign by targeting organizations in Europe, said Vikram Thakur, research manager with security software maker Symantec said.