More cyber attacks on the way, warn experts
There was chaos after 150 countries were hit by a cyber attack on Friday. The virus was stopped in its tracks, but security experts say it is not over yet. How worried should we be?
In Britain, ambulances were diverted, operations were cancelled, and doctors were forced to treat patients without their full medical records. In Germany, screens in train stations displayed threatening ransom messages. In France, a car company was forced to stop production at several of its factories.
This was all thanks to a computer virus known as WannaCry, which caused chaos as it spread around the globe on Friday. Once it infected a computer, it locked the files and displayed a screen demanding $300 in bitcoin. It was a type of virus called a “worm” which can spread through computer networks — such as the NHS — very quickly.
Yesterday the head of Europol said that at least 200,000 victims had been targeted in 150 different countries. It is not known who was behind it.
The virus was stopped on Friday by an “accidental hero” known as MalwareTech. While looking through the virus’s code, he accidentally flicked a “kill switch” that stopped the programme in its tracks.
However, he has warned that there may be more attacks to come. “The attackers will realise how we stopped it,” he said. “Then they’ll start again.”
This is very scary, say some. Attacking hospitals could cost lives. We were lucky this time — but we have been given a glimpse of a truly terrifying future. What happens if hackers get access to power stations, or nuclear weapons? Our reliance on technology feels far more dangerous than it did this time last week.
Don’t panic, say others. The virus was stopped, and it does not seem like anyone was hurt. Now companies and governments will learn to take cybercrime more seriously. And the good news is that protecting computers from this kind of virus is quite easy — as long as software is updated regularly, then everyone will be safe.
- How worried are you about cybercrime?
- Make a poster which advises young people on how to protect themselves from computer viruses.
Some People Say...
“It is pointless to worry about things you cannot control.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- At least 200,000 computers were infected in 150 countries. The attack was based on a flaw in Windows operating systems which was first discovered by a US intelligence agency. A hacking group published a tool to exploit it in April.
- What do we not know?
- A lot of things, including who was behind the attack, how much money they will make, or whether they intended it to spread so far.
- A “cryptocurrency”, or a form of digital money, which is extremely difficult to track.
- The European Union’s law enforcement agency. Europol opened a Cybercrime Centre in 2013, to help countries tackle the issue.
- Kill switch
- The virus code included a website address which had not been registered. MalwareTech then registered the address so that he could track it — but it turned out that the virus had been built to stop working if this happened. He said he did not realise that this would happen at the time.