A global cyberattack leveraging hacking tools widely believed by researchers to have been developed by the US National Security Agency hit international shipper FedEx, disrupted Britain’s health system and infected computers in nearly 100 countries on Friday.
Cyber extortionists tricked victims into opening malicious malware attachments to spam emails that appeared to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other legitimate files.
The ransomware encrypted data on the computers, demanding payments of $300 to $600 to restore access.
Security researchers said they observed some victims paying via the digital currency bitcoin, though they did not know what percent had given in to the extortionists.
Researchers with security software maker Avast said they had observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets.
The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers. International shipper FedEx Corp said some of its Windows computers were also infected. “We are implementing remediation steps as quickly as possible,” it said in a statement.
Still, only a small number of US-headquartered organisations were hit because the hackers appear to have begun the campaign by targeting organisations in Europe, said Vikram Thakur, research manager with security software maker Symantec.