A ransomware virus is reported to be spreading aggressively around the globe, with over 50,000 computers having been targeted. The virus infects computer files and then demands money to unblock them.
An increase in activity of the malware was noticed starting from 8am CET (07:00 GMT) Friday, security software company Avast reported, adding that it “quickly escalated into a massive spreading.”
In a matter of hours, over 57,000 attacks have been detected worldwide, the company said.
Seventy-four countries around the globe have been affected, with the number of victims still growing, according to the Russian multinational cybersecurity and anti-virus provider, the Kaspersky Lab.
The ransomware, known as WanaCrypt0r 2.0, or WannaCry, is believed to have infected National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the UK and Spain’s biggest national telecommunications firm, Telefonica.
Britain and Spain are among the first nations who have officially recognized the attack. In Spain, apart from the telecommunications giant, Telefonica, a large number of other companies has been infected with the malicious software, Reuters reported.
The virus is said to attack computers on an internal network, as is the case with Telefonica, without affecting clients.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the cyberattack on UK hospitals is part of a wider international attack.
In Sweden, the mayor of Timra said “around 70 computers have had a dangerous code installed,” Reuters reported.
According to Avast, the ransomware has also targeted Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan.
The virus is apparently the upgraded version of the ransomware that first appeared in February. Believed to be affecting only Windows operated computers, it changes the affected file extension names to “.WNCRY.”
It then drops ransom notes to a user in a text file, demanding $300 worth of bitcoins to be paid to unlock the infected files within a certain period of time.
While the victim’s wallpaper is being changed, affected users also see a countdown timer to remind them of the limited time they have to pay the ransom. If they fail to pay, their data will be deleted, cybercriminals warn.
According to the New York Times, citing security experts, the ransomware exploits a “vulnerability that was discovered and developed by the National Security Agency (NSA).” The hacking tool was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, the report said, adding, that it has been distributing the stolen NSA hacking tools online since last year.