Former GCHQ chief blames Microsoft for world's biggest ever cyber attack

Joanna Estrada
May 21, 2017

There's a blame game brewing over who's responsible for the massive cyberattack that infected hundreds of thousands of computers.

The director explained that the case here is the exploitation of a flaw in the Microsoft operating systems.

Emails, bank account info, credit cards, passwords, are all in the hands of crooks and you have to pay a ransom before they will unlock your computer so you can get your files back.

"You can point a lot of fingers, but I think given that this was not a zero-day vulnerability (for which no patch is available), the people hacked are to blame", said Robert Cattanach, a partner at the global law firm Dorsey & Whitney and an expert on cybersecurity and data breaches.

Here are some of the key players in the attack and what may " or may not " be their fault.

On May 12, the company's British-based 22-year-old data breach research chief, Marcus Hutchins, created a "kill-switch", which security experts have widely hailed as the decisive step in halting the ransomware's rapid spread around the globe.

Poupard told Reuters that similar attacks are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Wu Yunkun, president of 360 Business Security Group, told to curb the virus's spread, the company had provided eight versions of warning notices, seven fix guides and six fix tools to their government and enterprises customers as of Monday morning. Brad Smith, Microsoft's top lawyer, criticized US intelligence agencies for "stockpiling" software code that can be used by hackers. "We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the Central Intelligence Agency show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world". He argued there should be "a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them".

In response, then life sciences minister George Freeman said: "We are working with suppliers, including Microsoft, to help health and care organisations update their systems and make sure they are safe to use and store data".

The episode underscores the folly of the US law enforcement demand that tech companies install backdoors into their devices and services. The world got a taste of that when a nasty malware called WannaCry struck computers running older versions of the Windows operating system around the world (and left millions in tears). The company no longer provides regular software updates to Windows XP, a version first released in 2001, unless customers pay for "custom support", a practice some observers believe has put users at risk.

When Microsoft sells software it does so through a licensing agreement that states the company is not liable for any security breaches, said Michael Scott, a professor at Southwestern Law School. He noted, however, the complexity that can be involved in patching a security hole.

Researchers are struggling to try to find early traces of WannaCry, which remains an active threat in hardest-hit China and Russian Federation, believing that identifying "patient zero" could help catch its criminal authors.

This includes whitelisting certain websites and software so only approved programs can run on a computer, or disabling administrative privileges on a company's machines so that only the IT department can download programs. Backups often are also out of date and missing critical information. Asked what the company is doing to prevent such exploitations, he cited "basic IT security blocking and tackling". WannaCry holds down systems and is generally within an attachment to an email or files masquerading an something harmless.

The technology behemoth said that on 14 March it had released a security update to patch vulnerability, however many computers globally remained unpatched.

"WannaCry is far and away the most severe malware attack so far in 2017, and the spread of this troubling ransomware is far from over".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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