Up to million computers hit in biggest cyber attack ever

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Johannesburg - Due to its magnitude, severity and complexity the WannaCry malware virus is the biggest of 2017 so far, according to cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab.

So massive is the scale of the attack that researchers at the company now believe that between 400 000 and 1 million devices have been affected globally. 

Kaspersky Lab principal security researcher David Emm told Fin24 it is unusual for this kind of virus to have affected so many computers in one go, and that it is likely to spread.

“The virus has affected so many machines globally and it is so widespread. It relies on an exploit (a chunk of data or a piece of software) which could have been prevented by installing a security update,” he said.

READ: Unprecedented global cyber-attack is a wake-up call, says Microsoft

Emm said that while South Africa is not one of the countries worst affected by the virus, the potential harm it could cause to any machine is "dramatic".

“Unless a user has a back-up of that information on their machine, photos, documents, spreadsheets and a host of other information could be lost,” he told Fin24. 

Due to the design of the WannaCry malware, affected users can retrieve encrypted data only by paying the ransom for the key to unlock their data. However, Emm said there's no guarantee that hackers will release the key. 

“The encrypted data can only be released if the user pays the ransom or if law enforcement authorities are able to locate the servers which are hosting the keys for the encrypted data,” he said. 

Security experts are currently looking for flaws in the design of the virus, but have been unable to find any. 

The WannaCry virus encrypts data on a computer, asking the user to pay a ransom of about R4 000. Local experts have said at least 1 000 computers are vulnerable to the virus, but don't know how many have been affected.

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