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Cyprus has ‘not yet’ fallen victim to WannaCry

A computer security expert says Cyprus is still waiting to see if a major organisation on the island has fallen victim to the massive ransomware worm that has disrupted operations across the globe in the last few days.

Cyber security experts say the spread of the worm dubbed WannaCry – “ransomware” that locked up more than 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries – had slowed but that the respite might only be brief amid fears new versions of the worm will strike.

“We are waiting to see if Cyprus has also fallen victim to this global attack,” said Dinos Pastos – a computing and security expert in Cyprus.

‘”Within the next few days, we will be able to see if there has been an attack recorded on the island. There are ways to avoid being infected. Basically try not to deviate from your normal routine at work but be very wary of emails – even from people you may know if they have attachments looking a bit off, like invoice attachments.”

“Make sure your software is up-to-date and avoid clicking on links and ensure you have smart screen (in Internet Explorer) turned on, which helps identify reported phishing and malware websites and helps you make informed decisions about downloads. You should also regularly back-up your important files.”

A representative of the Cyprus Cyber Crime Police Unit has stated that “there have been no reports of an attack by the virus over the weekend in Cyprus” but that members of the public “should alert us if they have been attacked”.

New ransomware attacks expected

In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft President Brad Smith appeared to tacitly acknowledge what researchers had already widely concluded: The ransomware attack leveraged a hacking tool, built by the US National Security Agency, that leaked online in April.

“This is an emerging pattern in 2017,” Smith wrote. “We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world.”

He also poured fuel on a long-running debate over how government intelligence services should balance their desire to keep software flaws secret – in order to conduct espionage and cyber warfare – against sharing those flaws with technology companies to better secure the internet.

“This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem,” Smith wrote. He added that governments around the world should “treat this attack as a wake-up call” and “consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.”

The NSA and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Microsoft statement.

Economic experts offered differing views on how much the attack, and associated computer outages, would cost businesses and governments.

The non-profit US Cyber Consequences Unit research institute estimated that total losses would range in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but not exceed $1 billion.

Most victims were quickly able to recover infected systems with backups, said the group’s chief economist, Scott Borg.

California-based cyber risk modeling firm Cyence put the total economic damage at $4 billion, citing costs associated with businesses interruption.

US President Donald Trump on Friday night ordered his homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, to convene an “emergency meeting” to assess the threat posed by the global attack, a senior administration official told Reuters.

Senior US security officials held another meeting in the White House Situation Room on Saturday, and the FBI and the NSA were working to help mitigate damage and identify the perpetrators of the massive cyber attack, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The investigations into the attack were in the early stages, however, and attribution for cyber attacks is notoriously difficult.

The original attack lost momentum late on Friday after a security researcher took control of a server connected to the outbreak, which crippled a feature that caused the malware to rapidly spread across infected networks.

Infected computers appear to largely be out-of-date devices that organizations deemed not worth the price of upgrading or, in some cases, machines involved in manufacturing or hospital functions that proved too difficult to patch without possibly disrupting crucial operations, security experts said.

Microsoft released patches last month and on Friday to fix a vulnerability that allowed the worm to spread across networks, a rare and powerful feature that caused infections to surge on Friday.

Code for exploiting that bug, which is known as “Eternal Blue,” was released on the internet last month by a hacking group known as the Shadow Brokers.

The head of the European Union police agency said on Sunday the cyber assault hit 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries and that number would grow when people return to work on Monday.

MONDAY MORNING RUSH?

Monday was expected to be a busy day, especially in Asia, which may not have seen the worst of the impact yet, as companies and organizations turned on their computers.

“Expect to hear a lot more about this tomorrow morning when users are back in their offices and might fall for phishing emails” or other as yet unconfirmed ways the worm may propagate, said Christian Karam, a Singapore-based security researcher.

The attack hit organizations of all sizes.

Renault said it halted manufacturing at plants in France and Romania to prevent the spread of ransomware.

Other victims include is a Nissan manufacturing plant in Sunderland, northeast England, hundreds of hospitals and clinics in the British National Health Service, German rail operator Deutsche Bahn and international shipper FedEx Corp.

A Jakarta hospital said on Sunday that the cyber attack had infected 400 computers, disrupting the registration of patients and finding records.

Account addresses hard-coded into the malicious WannaCry virus appear to show the attackers had received just under $32,500 in anonymous bitcoin currency as of 1pm (Cyprus time) on Sunday, but that amount could rise as more victims rush to pay ransoms of $300 or more.

The threat receded over the weekend after a British-based researcher, who declined to give his name but tweets under the profile @MalwareTechBlog, said he stumbled on a way to at least temporarily limit the worm’s spread by registering a web address to which he noticed the malware was trying to connect.

Security experts said his move bought precious time for organisations seeking to block the attacks.

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