A sneak cyberattack tore across 74 nations in Europe and Asia, crippling Britain’s National Health Service while unleashing a “massive infection” on Spain’s computers, officials said Friday.
The widespread hacking, which also struck in Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Romania, Turkey and Italy, wreaked its worst havoc on England’s National Health Service.
British medical patients were asked to avoid local hospitals except in emergencies, ambulance service was in disarray, and scheduled surgeries and chemotherapy sessions were scuttled in the cyber-fallout.
The malware used to lock up the computers, known as “Wanna Cry” or “Wanna Decryptor,” was developed by the U.S. National Secruity Agency and leaked by a group dubbed the “Shadow Brokers.”
The potentially crippling malware was sent into the computer systems via email, with the same method apparently used in every country. There were a reported 45,000 attacks, according to CNN.
“Once it gets in and starts moving across the infrastructure, there is no way to stop it,” said researcher Adam Myers of the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike.
Preliminary reports said dozens of countries were targeted, with The New York Times putting the number at 74.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said the NHS was not the specific target of the hackers.
“It’s an international attack and a number of countries and organizations have been affected,” she said.
Twenty-five organizations affiliated with the NHS were struck by the cyberattack. No nation or group claimed responsibility for the mass hacking.
There were reports that Portugal Telecom was hit but suffered no ill effects from a cyberattack.
“We were the target of an attack, like what is happening in all of Europe, a large scale-attack, but none of our services were affected,” said a company statement.
Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica insisted the hacking involved only a few computers and did not affect customers or services.
Spanish officials nevertheless used a special protocol to fight back against the program that struck both corporate and personal computers.
Spanish businesses like Iberdrola and Gas Natural asked staffers to turn off their computers in a preventive measure until the ransomware is eradicated.
Ransomware locks up a computer and demands a cash payment to restore service. Social media showed photos asking for $ 300 in Bitcoin, an online currency.
“Ooops, you’re files have been encrypted!” read the accompanying message.
In the ransomware case that made the most news, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California paid $ 17,000 in February 2016 to regain its computer system from hackers.
In addition to the hospitals in England, several facilities in Scotland were affected as well.
NHS Merseyside — operator of several northwest England hospitals — tweeted about the hacking.
“Following a suspected national cyberattack, we are taking all precautionary measures possible to protect our local NHS systems and services,” said their message.