NHS cyber attack: Security Minister calls Windows XP accusations 'red herrings'

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 20, 2017

Over the last few days, the global ransomware attack WannaCry infected computers running on older versions of Microsoft operating systems like XP, locking access to files.

Bkav recommends that all computer users immediately install updates and security patches and hotfixes via Windows Update.

The WannaCry ransomware attack that started Friday and infected hundreds of thousands of computers has been linked to hackers aligned with North Korea, according to cybersecurity researchers.

So far no clues have been uncovered as to who was behind the malicious software, which locks users' computer files and demands a ransom payment of US$300 (S$418) to US$600 to unlock them. But it did create something something almost as bad: Windows Vista, an operating system so horrendously bloated, broken, and altogether unpleasant to use that many PC users back in 2007 skipped upgrading altogether, opting instead to stick with the outdated Windows XP, a decision that has left many people on that decade-and-a-half-old operating system even today, years after Microsoft stopped updating it. "This ransomworm specifically used Microsoft SMB vulnerability MS17-010 to spread internally", which is the same vulnerability the NSA utilized for a couple years and was recently exposed via the January NSA tools leak.

One theory suggested that 90 percent of NHS trusts across the United Kingdom were using Microsoft's 16-year-old OS Windows XP, which could leave them susceptible to attacks. We increasingly are among the first responders to attacks on the internet. Using an operating system after its expiration date is unwise, but in fairness to the millions of people around the world still using old versions of Windows, expecting consumers to regularly buy expensive software of uncertain quality is unwise too. But these two agendas, of militarism, absolute secrecy, and software profit maximization create an environment that allows something like WannaCry to stomp all over the globe, hobbling hospitals and train stations in its wake.

The tools behind the attack originated within the NSA. Agencies around the world, however, have advised organisations to not pay ransom under any circumstances. Kaspersky Lab says that the majority of affected systems were in Russian Federation.

If you have a recent backup, restore from it: Ransomware is worthless to a hacker if a user has a backup.

Spanish firm Telefonica, French automaker Renault, the USA -based delivery service FedEx and the German railway Deutsche Bahn were among those affected. The British National Health Service was one of the earlier targets and also among the hardest hit.

Affected Windows systems include everything from Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Windows Server 2012, Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016.

WannaCry rightly scared the general public, but the ransomware shows signs of being produced by amateurs and thus is easily combatted - a 22-year-old discovered a "kill switch" in the program, an easy solution to the growing problem. Several security holes are fixed before they can be exploited.

In a blog post, Microsoft admonished governments around the world for keeping software vulnerabilities to themselves, instead of reporting them to the developers. "We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits", he said.

A new variant of the WannaCry attack surfaced on Monday, according to cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies, but the firm stopped it by using the kill switch, Reuters reports.

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