A (relatively) recent act of cyberwarfare is the WannaCry ransomware attack, becoming prominent around May of 2017. The malware exploited a vulnerability in the Windows file sharing protocol to infect computers, encrypt files, and demand a ransom in Bitcoin. It was initially released on May 12, 2017, but had spread worldwide within a day. No known objective has been found, but given that it demanded a Bitcoin ransom the most probably motive is to make money. According to [1], the hackers made about US$130000 from the attack. After the malware was contained by patches and triggering the malware’s built-in kill-switch, governmental agencies pinpointed North Korea as the originator of the attack.

Personally, this attack highlighted two major problems. The first is that the attack used a vulnerability that was patched by Microsoft the preceding March. The only way the exploit got so big was because system administrators did not keep their systems properly patched. One other revelation is that many hospitals and other critical systems were running Windows XP and thus subject to the exploit, leading Microsoft to release an extremely rare update for the what would have otherwise been unsupported Windows XP. It’s simply irresponsible on the part of governments and administrators to keep running outdated versions of critical software that is connected to the internet.

The second problem is that the exploit in question was discovered by the NSA a long time before the attacks began. Instead of reporting to vulnerability to Microsoft, the NSA hoarded it as an offensive weapon, but the exploit was leaked to third parties then used by the North Korean hackers to write the malware. If the NSA had responsibly disclosed the vulnerability to Microsoft to get it fixed, the attack would not have reached its current extent. This highlights an ongoing tendency of the NSA to hoard any exploits it discovers for itself instead of reaching out to the vendors to correct the issue. This serves to actually weaken the national security of the US since many critical systems rely on Windows, such as hospitals and industrial control systems.

Works Cited

[1]: WannaCry