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Cyber-attacks sweep Europe and US with 'WannaCry links'

A new outbreak of data-scrambling software caused disruption across the world [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 June, 2017

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US and European IT systems have come under attack as a global virus sweeps the world, with tell tale links to an earlier 'WannaCry' bug.

A new and highly virulent outbreak of data-scrambling software caused disruption across the world on Tuesday, as IT experts say the bug could be linked to last month's WannaCry virus.

The assault paralysed some hospitals, government offices and major multinational corporations in the US and Europe, a dramatic demonstration of how easily malicious programmes can bring daily life to a halt.

Ukraine and other parts of Europe were hit particularly hard by the new strain of ransomware - malicious software that locks up computer files with all-but-unbreakable encryption and then demands a ransom for its release. 

This time, the virus makers demanded $300 in bitcoins, pointing to criminal gangs releasing the bug for monetary gain.

The creators had also borrowed from leaked National Security Agency code, raising the possibility that the digital havoc had spread using US taxpayer-funded tools.

"The virus is spreading all over Europe and I'm afraid it can harm the whole world," said Victor Zhora, the chief executive of Infosafe IT in Kiev, where reports of the malicious software first emerged earlier on Tuesday.

In Ukraine, the government was hit with officials seeing darkened computer screens demanding a ransom.

Energy companies, banks, advertising and logistics were all hit. A hospital in the US was also hit.

Bogdan Botezatu, an analyst with Bitdefender, compared such self-spreading software - often called "worms" - to a contagious disease.

"It's like somebody sneezing into a train full of people," Botezatu said. "You just have to exist there and you're vulnerable."

Emails sent to an address posted to the bottom of ransom demands went unreturned, after Berlin-based Posteo - who hosted the mailer - deleting the account before the infection became widely known.

Investigators say the latest attack bore similarities to last month's WannaCry virus which affected more than 300,000 computers.

"Cyber attacks can simply destroy us," Kevin Johnson, chief executive of cyber security firm Secure Ideas told Reuters.

"Companies are just not doing what they are supposed to do to fix the problem."

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