Global Cyberattack: What We Know and Don’t Know

• Kaspersky reported that approximately 2,000 computer systems had been affected by the new ransomware so far.


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• Symantec, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity firm, confirmed that the ransomware was infecting computers through at least one exploit, or vulnerability to computer systems, known as Eternal Blue.

• Eternal Blue was leaked online last April by a mysterious group of hackers known as the Shadow Brokers, who have previously released hacking tools used by the National Security Agency. The same vulnerability was used in May to spread the WannaCry ransomware, in which hundreds of thousands of computers in over 150 countries were affected.

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A photo from 2016 showing a ransomeware message on a computer screen.

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Damien Meyer/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

• Photographs and videos of computers affected by the attack show a message of red text over a black screen. The message read: “Oops, your important files have been encrypted. If you see this text then your files are no longer accessible because they have been encrypted. Perhaps you are busy looking to recover your files but don’t waste your time.”

• Several cybersecurity researchers have identified a Bitcoin address to which the attackers are demanding a payment of $300 from their victims. At least some of the victims appear to be paying the ransom.

What We Don’t Know

• Who is behind the ransomware attack. The original Petya ransomware was developed and used by cybercriminals, and variations have been sold through dark web trading sites, which are accessible only by using browsers that mask a user’s identity, making it difficult for cybersecurity researchers to track.

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• Why it is spreading as quickly as it is. Cybersecurity researchers believe that like WannaCry, the ransomware infects computers using vulnerabilities in the central nerve of a computer, called a kernel, making it difficult for antivirus firms to detect. It is not yet known if the new ransomware uses any new vulnerabilities, or variants of the vulnerabilities, made public by the group known as the Shadow Brokers.

• It’s unclear if systems protected against WannaCry can still be affected by the new ransomware attack.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is one of the most popular forms of online attack today. It typically begins with attackers sending their victims an email that includes a link, or a file, which appears innocuous, but which contains dangerous malware.

• Once a victim clicks on the link or opens the attachment, the computer becomes infected. The program encrypts the computer, essentially locking the user out of files, folders, and drives on that computer. In some cases, the entire network the computer is connected to can become infected.

• The victim then receives a message demanding payment in exchange for attackers unlocking the system. The payment is usually requested in Bitcoin, a form of digital currency.

Follow Sheera Frenkel on Twitter @sheeraf.


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