Author: SEWELL CHAN and MARK SCOTT / Source: New York Times
LONDON — Security experts are warning that the global cyberattack that began on Friday is likely to be magnified in the new workweek as users return to their offices and turn on their computers.
Many workers, particularly in Asia, had logged off on Friday before the malicious software, stolen from the United States government, began proliferating across computer systems around the world. So the true effect of the attack may emerge on Monday as employees return and log in.
Moreover, copycat variants of the malicious software behind the attacks have begun to spread, according to experts. “We are in the second wave,” said Matthieu Suiche of Comae Technologies, a cybersecurity company based in the United Arab Emirates. “As expected, the attackers have released new variants of the malware. We can surely expect more.”
The cyberattack has hit 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries, according to Rob Wainwright, the executive director of Europol, the European Union’s police agency.
“At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat,” he told the British network ITV on Sunday. “The numbers are going up. I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn their machines on Monday morning.”
Among the organizations hit were FedEx in the United States, the Spanish telecom giant Telefónica, the French automaker Renault, universities in China, Germany’s federal railway system and Russia’s Interior Ministry. The most disruptive attacks infected Britain’s public health system, where surgeries had to be rescheduled and some patients were turned away from emergency rooms.
A 22-year-old British researcher who uses the Twitter name MalwareTech has been credited with inadvertently helping to stanch the spread of the assault by identifying the web domain for the hackers’ “kill switch” — a way of disabling the malware. Mr. Suiche of Comae Technologies said he did the same for one of the new variants of malware to surface since the initial wave.
On Sunday, MalwareTech was one of many security experts warning that a less-vulnerable version of the malware is likely to be released. On Twitter, he urged users to immediately install a security patch for older versions of Microsoft’s Windows, including Windows XP. (The attack did not target Windows 10.)
Robert Pritchard, a former cybersecurity expert at Britain’s defense ministry, said that security specialists might not be able to keep pace with the hackers.
“This vulnerability still exits; other people are bound to exploit it,” he said. “The current variant will make its way into antivirus software. But what about any new variants that will come in the future?”
All it would take is for a new group of hackers to change the original malware code slightly to remove the “kill switch” and send it off into the world, using the same email-based methods to infiltrate computer systems that the…
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