'WannaCry' Ransomware Attack: What We Know

Then there's the US government, whose Windows hacking tools were leaked to the internet and got into the hands of cybercriminals. Instructions on how to install this patch are also available at ZDNet.

The ransomware virus is such lethal and smart that "it also drops a file named '!Please Read Me!.txt' which contains the text explaining what has happened (to the computer) and how to pay the ransom". On Friday, it extended that support to aging versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports but many businesses still use. "Microsoft can't be proud".

"WannaCry", as the ransomware is known, uses a Windows vulnerability originally identified by the NSA, according to security experts. Companies such as Microsoft and government agencies such as the NSA need to take a proactive approach to dealing with vulnerabilities, Tufekci argued in the New York Times's opinion pages.

The malicious software - known as WannaCrypt or WannaCry - is widely believed to have been developed as a hacking tool by the US National Security Agency.

"An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen", attorney Brad Smith wrote on Microsoft's blog.

The ACLU, meanwhile, urged Congress to pass a law requiring the government to disclose vulnerabilities to companies "in a timely manner", so that they can patch them as soon as possible. Unpatched Microsoft systems are vulnerable to the WannaCry ransomware variant.

These include the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for all central and state government systems; Reserve Bank of India, National Payments Corporation of India and Unique Identification Authority of India for protection of the digital payments ecosystem; the Department of Telecommunications to alert Internet service providers for security of the telecommunications network; and Data Security Council of India and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing to circulate advisories to their constituencies so as to cover the industry and users in India, primarily in private sector.

But the kill switch couldn't help those already infected.

Still, it was Microsoft that wrote the exploitable software to begin with.

"Some organisations just aren't aware of the risks; some don't want to risk interrupting important business processes; sometimes they are short-staffed", said Ziv Mador, vice president of security research at Israel's SpiderLabs Trustwave.

"Cyber attacks have already become a kind of industry", cyber security researcher Yang Xiang from Deakin University in Australia told ABC News.

As companies and individuals take stock Monday morning, the focus is turning to protecting against further attacks.

Symantec, a cybersecurity company, forecast infections so far would cost tens of millions of dollars, mostly from cleaning corporate networks.

The worm is a form of ransomware, where affected users are asked to pay a ransom fee in order to regain control of their systems.

"It's not rocket science", Litan said.

"There were the same attacks applied to Nissan on Friday and in other areas of the economy and indeed around the world", Fallon said. The ransom demanded of each infected computer was a little more than $300 or so.

The software exploits a security flaw in Windows XP, and once it infects a computer, it encrypts the files and spreads to other computers. The attack froze computers at hospitals across the country, with some cancelling all routine procedures.

They exploited a ideal storm of factors - the Windows hole, the ability to get ransom paid in digital currency, poor security practices - but it's unclear if the payoff, at least so far, was worth the trouble.

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