Australian companies warned about global cyber attack

Australians have been warned to update their virus software after a cyber attack has struck hospitals and companies around the world.

The attacks began on Friday last week, when users’ computers were taken hostage by ransomware, which would not allow them to access their computers unless they paid a sum of money. The attack is estimated to have hit more than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries, and it is feared that the attacks will continue this week as people return to work and turn on their computers.

Australians have been urged to update their virus software immediately. According to University of Melbourne cyber security expert Dr Suelette Dreyfus, the attack would have been nowhere near as prolific had people run the updates provided by Microsoft in March.

At least 16 hospitals in Britain were affected, with some forced to halt urgent surgeries as patients’ scans could not be accessed. Spanish telco company Telefonica and US delivery service FedEx have also admitted to being targeted. Countless other companies were affected, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan suffering the most, according to cyber security firm Avast.

One Australian company has admitted to being struck by the virus, although Prime Minister Turnbull’s cyber security advisor, Alastair MacGibbon, did not provide any details other than to say that it is a small company that does not provide critical infrastructure. Dreyfus believes that numerous Australian companies could have been affected, but they have not come forward because they do not want the public to lose trust in their security systems.

It is believed that ransomware known as Wanna Decryptor is responsible for the attacks. The perpetrators have earned US$26,148, according to security firm Redsocks.

“This attack is a powerful reminder that information technology basics like keeping computers current and patched are a high responsibility for everyone, and it’s something every top executive should support,” said Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft.