Hospitals across England were hit this morning by a rapidly spreading ransomware cyberattack that by the afternoon was affecting computers around the world. At least 16 hospitals in the National Health Service have reported being hit with a ransomware strike, which appears to encrypt computer files — think everything your doctor needs to effectively treat and monitor you — unless the hospital pays a fee, about $300 in bitcoins, to the hackers.
The NHS issued a statement on the attack earlier on Friday, noting it does not believe any patient information has been compromised. “A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack,” the statement said. “The investigation is at an early stage but we believe the malware variant is Wanna Decryptor.” If the hackers are not paid, or a fix is not found, the ransom will increase until, ultimately, the hacked files are erased. Hospitals in the East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust — which are among the affected — are asking patients not to go to emergency rooms, unless it is truly, well, an emergency.
But it’s more than just the NHS. By early afternoon, the hack had spread beyond England, affecting computers at hospitals and telecommunication companies throughout Asia and Europe. Thus far, 99 countries have been impacted, CNN reports. All of the attacks appear to have been mounted using a security vulnerability developed by the National Security Agency, the New York Times reports. The vulnerability was leaked by the Shadow Brokers, a group that often steals and posts NSA hacking information online. The issue, the Times also reports, was fixed last March, but the computers affected today had yet to be updated, so they were still open to attack. British cybersecurity authorities are still investigating the incident, while the NHS works to bring its computers back online.