Who’s to blame for the ongoing global ransomware attack? Obviously, the people that developed the ransomware. The only problem is that those people are (at least in part) the NSA.
The ransomware, known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt0r, uses an exploit originally developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). Rather than discretely telling Microsoft about the vulnerability so they could patch it, the NSA had held onto it as part of their suite of spying tools. They did eventually inform Microsoft, but only after the exploit had been released by hackers in April 2017.
The scale of the attack is unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands of computers have been affected in over 150 countries. Users logged on to discover they had been locked out of their files, and received a message from the hackers telling them the only way to decrypt their images, files, and data would be to pay a bitcoin ransom. Cybersecurity experts are recommending that people do not pay the ransom, because there is no guarantee they will get their files back.
Ransomware is not new, but this particular attack is combined with a worm that allows it to spread across networks, infecting multiple computers within an organisation. Large public organisations, such as the NHS in the United Kingdom, have been affected. Many private firms may also have been hit, but will be reluctant to make this fact public, fearing their reputation could be damaged.
The attack has reignited the debate around access by the intelligence agencies to personal data. It is seemingly not possible for intelligence agencies to retain a “backdoor” into data that cannot also be exploited by criminals. So, perversely, are spy agencies making us less safe by not working with companies to patch these vulnerabilities as quickly as possible?
Should spy agencies always tell companies their systems can be hacked? And is Europe prepared for the next wave of cybercrime? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!