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Dozens of countries were hit with a huge cyberextortion attack Friday that locked up computers and held users’ files for ransom at a multitude of hospitals, companies and government agencies. It was believed to the biggest attack of its kind ever recorded. The malicious software behind the onslaught appeared to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that was supposedly identified by the National Security Agency for its own intelligence-gathering purposes and was later leaked to the internet. Britain’s national health service fell victim, its hospitals forced to close wards and emergency rooms and turn away patients. Russia appeared to be the hardest hit, according to security experts, with the country’s Interior Ministry confirming it was struck.
LONDON — A huge extortion cyberattack hit dozens of nations Friday, holding computer data for ransom at hospitals, telecommunications firms and other companies. The attack appeared to exploit a vulnerability purportedly identified for use by the U.S. National Security Agency and later leaked to the internet.
The attack hit Britain’s health service, forcing affected hospitals to close wards and emergency rooms. Related attacks were reported in Spain, Portugal and Russia. Two security firms — Kaspersky Lab and Avast — said they had identified the malware behind the attack in upward of 70 countries, although both said the attack has hit Russia hardest.
The Russian Interior Ministry has confirmed it was hit by the “ransomware” attack, which encrypts data on infected computers and demands payment, usually via the digital currency bitcoin, to release it. Britain’s health service was also hit hard Friday as the attack froze computers at hospitals across the country, shutting down wards, closing emergency rooms and bringing medical treatments to a screeching halt.
Hospitals in areas across Britain found themselves without access to their computers or phone systems. Many canceled all routine procedures and asked patients not to come to the hospitals unless it was an emergency