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19 May 2017, 08:55 | Megan Pierce
Low-end criminals take advantage of less-savvy users with such known viruses, even though malware is constantly changing and antivirus is frequently days behind detecting it.
"Then it essentially goes through your computer", Staats said. While internet security tools can remove the infection, the files will still be encrypted.
"Whether or not you think the US government should be spending a fortune developing such cyber-weapons, surely it is obvious that the weapons they develop should be properly secured", said Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist for New Jersey-based cybersecurity firm Comodo, in an emailed statement.
After 72 hours, the $300 fee doubles.
Now, photos and documents are inaccessible, and there is an urgent red-hued message demanding payment in order to restore your files.
In the case of the WannaCry issue, at the moment that has now hit more than 150 countries and about 200,000 computer networks.
The subject of all of this hassle, the WannaCry worm has affected at least 200,000 Windows machines around the globe since Friday, leading to the disruption of systems from FedEX corp to Britain's National Health Service and even vehicle factories.
"I can understand why they issued an emergency patch for XP after WannaCry was found, but in general, we should just let XP die", Hypponen said.
Security is a balance of risk against cost and updates may seem like a painful ordeal, but the world is moving into an environment where this cost is nothing in comparison to the risks of doing nothing. Microsoft also took the unusual step of releasing security fixes for systems it no longer is keeping up to date, including the Windows XP, first released in 2001 and still widely used in some corners.
As mentioned, blame is starting to be levied against Microsoft for not patching older versions of Windows with new firewalls or the NSA for letting these exploits sit.
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Levin says if the perpetrators actually live in one of the countries hit hard by this attack - say, Russian Federation - that would be, as he puts it, "an incredibly bad life choice". "This malware is different as it is trying to exploit legacy systems".
So, good backup - in-house and in the cloud - is vital. "In the Ministry of Defence, the credentials of service men were breached".
WannaCry is just the latest global attack that has both companies and individuals scrambling to beef up protection on their computers and networks.
It was widely speculated that ATM machines running on legacy operating systems would be the next target. Hesitant to carry out online bank transactions, panicky businessmen and customers are postponing digital payments.
But, even other industries could be impacted.
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.
Some hospitals also use equipment with outdated software.
The virus, called WannaCry, infected computers in organizations including the British healthcare system, the American company FedEx and Russia's Interior Ministry. Lives are at stake here.
Yet security flaws in older editions of Windows persist. While commendable, it is extremely unlikely that governments would sign up to a limitation of how their secret services and law enforcement agencies operate in the area of cyber warfare or cyber espionage.
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But the authorities remain on high alert, and experts warn the attackers could tweak the code and launch a fresh wave of attacks. This virus has been designed as a "worm", which means it can automatically spread to other computers on the same network.
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