WannaCry ransomware cyber-attack is a 'wake-up call', says Microsoft

This was the moment ransomware caught the world's attention, and the attack should drive further initiatives for better, faster patching.

The locking or kidnapping process generally relies on frighteningly complex cryptography.

If you don't pay, your encrypted files are lost. There are recorded instances of such attacks even before Bitcoin came into existence.

Analysts extracted the key, circulated it and a crisis was averted. Bitcoin is a completely digital currency.

Ransomware is now at epidemic proportions.

Although the cyber-attack has been keeping experts busy tracking the whereabouts and the loss that individuals and businesses are facing, some have opined that the massive effect could have been avoided through some simple measures.

If there was ever a malware attack that we should have been ready for, it's the WannaCry ransomware attack that started attacking European organizations May 12.

Researchers from a variety of security firms say they have so far failed to find a way to decrypt files locked up by WannaCry and say chances are low anyone will succeed. To ensure that other computers are not infected, switch off the network. The top security features must be added in all the versions of Windows. The virus used a hacking tool stolen and developed by the NSA called "Eternal Blue", which gives them access to all computers using Microsoft Windows. Rather than telling Microsoft about the flaw, the NSA kept the exploit quiet, doubtless hoping to use it in the future.

A hacker group - known as Shadow Brokers - obtained an arsenal of cyber warfare tools in April from the NSA, of which the US agency called "Eternal Blue".

What did Microsoft know about all of this?

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None of this points to Microsoft's current operating system, Windows 10, being more susceptible to malware than Apple's macOS or OS X. In fact, the real reason hackers and criminals attack Windows is that it's the most popular desktop operating system in the world.

The virus targeted computers using Windows XP, as well as Windows 7 and 8, all of which Microsoft stopped servicing years ago. "For organizations running legacy versions of Windows or who have not implemented the SMB patch that Microsoft released last month, PCs and servers will remain vulnerable to this type of attack". Microsoft has been very critical of the NSA stockpiling of exploits.

The stolen exploits were reported earlier this year, and although Microsoft created a patch to address the vulnerability, many computers were not patched, leading to them being susceptible to the hack.

Still, "My answer is, never pay the ransom", Abrams said.

No. Police and security agencies warn computer users against paying ransoms.

It gets worse too.

However, just because the initial attacks may be ending, that doesn't mean it's all clear. A security researcher in the United Kingdom who goes by the handle MalwareTech found that when the WannaCry malware is starting up, it searches for an oddly named domain on the internet.

An unknown number of computers sit behind the 300,000 infected internet connections identified by Kryptos.

"You can point a lot of fingers, but I think given that this was not a zero-day vulnerability (for which no patch is available), the people hacked are to blame", said Robert Cattanach, a partner at the global law firm Dorsey & Whitney and an expert on cybersecurity and data breaches. Security professionals, police and secret services from around the world will be watching like hawks.

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