A global “ransomware” cyberattack, unprecedented in scale, had technicians scrambling to restore Britain’s crippled hospital network Saturday and secure the computers that run factories, banks, government agencies and transport systems in many other nations.
The worldwide effort to extort cash from computer users spread so widely that Microsoft quickly changed its policy, making security fixes available for free for the older Windows systems still used by millions of individuals and smaller businesses.
A malware tracking map showed “WannaCry” infections popping up around the world. Britain canceled or delayed treatments for thousands of patients, even people with cancer. Train systems were hit in Germany and Russia, and phone companies in Madrid and Moscow. Renault’s futuristic assembly line in Slovenia, where rows of robots weld car bodies together, was stopped cold.
In Brazil, the social security system had to disconnect its computers and cancel public access. The state-owned oil company Petrobras and Brazil’s Foreign Ministry also disconnected computers as a precautionary measure, and court systems went down, too.
Britain’s home secretary said one in five of 248 National Health Service groups had been hit. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said all but six of the NHS trusts back to normal Saturday.
The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center was “working round the clock” to restore vital health services, while urging people to update security software fixes, run anti-virus software and back up their data elsewhere.
Who perpetrated this wave of attacks remains unknown. Two security firms — Kaspersky Lab and Avast — said they identified the malicious software in more than 70 countries. Both said Russia was hit hardest.
These hackers “have caused enormous amounts of disruption— probably the biggest ransomware cyberattack in history,” said Graham Cluley, a veteran of the anti-virus industry in Oxford, England.