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Julia Hammond
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Mass Global Hacking Attack Starts to Show Impact in Australia

This morning, a whole bunch of Aussies arrived at work and switched on their computers to discover their systems had been locked.

A ransom message was displayed on their screens: seemingly, the only way to restore access was to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The unprecedented glitch is a flow-on effect from the worldwide cyber-attack known as ‘WannaCry’ that occurred last Friday, hitting 75,000 computers in 99 countries.

While the first Australian company to reportedly feel the effects of the attack remains anonymous, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s cyber security advisor, Alastair MacGibbon, has reassured communities that the business was a small company that did not provide critical infrastructure.

What are the details of the attack?

It’s believed that a Russian-linked group known as TheShadowBrokers stole a hacking tool last month, which another cyber gang then used to perform a massive operation across the globe.

Spam emails with malicious malware attachments were distributed to victims, appearing to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other files.

The malware was used to encrypt computer data and demand exorbitant payments in order to decode the data.

According to security researchers, some of the victims had given in and paid the ransom to the cyber extortionists, although they are unsure of the exact percentage.

cyber attack

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“One of the worst-ever recorded attacks of its kind”

The malicious attack is not only noteworthy due to the sheer number of victims affected, but also due to the nature of the businesses that have suffered the consequences.

Cyber security experts have even stated the attack is “breeding a level of chaos that is concerning”, with a host of public service industries facing ongoing damages, including:

  • Healthcare facilities – The hack has been said to “paralyse” Britain’s National Health Service, with at least 16 hospitals and clinics experiencing telephone and computer system downtime, resulting in delays and patients’ lives put at risk.
  • Governments – Computers at the Russian Interior Ministry experienced the wrath of the attack, with more than 1,000 computers now rendered unusable.
  • Education institutions – An unspecified number of secondary schools and universities in China were infected by the hack.
  • Public transport systems – European railways are also riding the effects, including Germany’s main rail operator, Deutsche Bahn AG, and Russia’s state railway monopoly, Russian Railways.

Evidently, the impact of the ransomware attack is in-depth and wide-spread, illustrating the vulnerability of the digital landscape and the need to tighten security measures where possible.

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How did an attack of this magnitude transpire?

The WannaCry attack was purportedly made possible thanks to a Windows security flaw, proving the importance of up-to-date software. According to technology experts, the ransomware was able to detect loopholes in Microsoft Windows programs that hadn’t been recently updated.

While ransomware is not a new concept, this particular attack has spread much quicker than any of its predecessors, making it the largest cyber-attack in history.

Though apparently targeted at European companies, the ransomware attack has hit Australian shores and there is concern that it will continue to make its presence known here. As such, it’s prompted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to push for a crack-down on cyber security to ward against the risks of hacking.

By Trish O'LoughlinJulia Hammond

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