While the criminal hackers behind WannaCry are demanding Bitcoins rather than conventional money, the principle is the same – having hijacked/encrypted data, they demand a ransom be paid to release it

THE world has been gripped by a single tech story this week like never before, as malicious ‘ransomware’ wreaked havoc across the globe, leading to a domino chain of disaster in one sector after another – a chain which still hasn’t finished its tumbling yet.

Literally hundreds of thousands of companies all around the world were affected by the ransomware virus commonly known as WannaCry (and a WannaCry2 variant), which certainly left plenty of people ready to cry – with rage, given the mess it created for many.

While ransomware is a common enough IT threat to look out for – indeed, even Gazette Towers fell prey to one pesky worm some time back (which, true to form, blocked access to a huge amount of files by encrypting them, then demanded payment to unlock the files, just as WannaCry has been doing) – the scale and speed of WannaCry’s path to global mayhem was unprecedented.

From entire healthcare systems to banking networks, right down to several Mom-n-Pop local businesses, the ransomeware worm hijacked individual computers and entire networks at a global level with startling speed and ease, effectively shouting “Stick ’em up – now hand over the loot!” at its victims.

Here at home, the Government was as quick to react as its peers around the world, putting out warnings and advising industry/the public about the threat posed by WannaCry, although by that stage, the damage was done.

Echoing the warnings of international experts, the National Cyber Security Centre in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment pointed out how WannaCry exploited a particular Microsoft Windows vulnerability.

This allowed it to easily self-replicate and spread – alarmingly, it didn’t need to be triggered by a user – with experts all around the world rushing to try to fix the issue and stop WannaCry in its tracks, but even this global effort was just a little too late.

While WannaCry’s impact in Ireland (at the time of writing) was pretty limted compared to several other countries, reports suggested that Russian and Chinese computers had been particularly badly impacted.

From ATMs to hospitals, colleges to telephone networks, a very dievrse amount of systems everywhere were hijacked and held to ransom.

Furious accusations have already been thrown about in several countries about who was to blame for the scale of the crisis, while governments and political parties alike have bickered about their defences in the face of the attacks.

It’s a story that’s still unfolding at the time of going to print, with the alarming incident underscoring the surprisingly wobbly state of global IT systems despite literally decades of research, training and expensive tech already in place to stop such an attack – all of which utterly failed in the face of an attack by a sneaky but not especially sophisticated virus.

Governments, corporations, tech and national security agencies, and Joe Public alike have all been asking the same question: who was behind the attack?

Analysts have started to point the finger at North Korea, with initial reports emerging of similarities between the ransomware and previous antics linked to well-known NK hackers.

However, while it’s still too early to know the full story and impact of WannaCry’s rampage, it has perhaps served as a harsh reminder that IT threats are very real, with even one ‘simple’ attack having had the ability to impact on hundreds of millions of people, while governments stood by helplessly.

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