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Aug 21, 2017

Ransomware Attacks Making the Headlines in 2017

In recent years, ransomware has emerged as one of the most lethal weapons of cyber gangs. According to the FBI, cybercriminals pocketed around $209 million in the first three months of 2016 alone. This year was no different as the world experienced a new wave of attacks on computer servers. Businesses and institutions globally became targets and faced extortion demands from hackers. 

St. Louis Ransomware

In January, more than 700 computers in 16 libraries across St. Louis, Missouri experienced a massive cyber attack. Spreading via a centralized computer server, the virus caused the loans system of the libraries to freeze, cutting access to more than four million items. In addition to preventing borrowers from checking out or returning books, staff emails also stopped functioning. Hackers demanded $35,000 in electronic currency Bitcoin, but authorities refused to comply.

The libraries provided internet services to St. Louis's schoolchildren and its poor. In the words of Jen Hatton, spokesperson for the library authority, 

"For many … we’re their only access to the internet.... Some of them have a smartphone, but they don’t have a data plan. They come in and use the wifi."


One of the largest cyberattacks in history, WannaCry infected 300,000 machines in 150 countries. Exploiting hacking methods and tools of the NSA, the ransomware targeted companies running outdated Windows technology. 

'Legacy software' or 'legacy technology' comprises of outdated programs that no longer receive software updates. Such software is often found in big corporations like healthcare and telecom, where executing the latest upgrades is considered both costly and time-consuming. The U.S. government for example still uses technology that is five-decades-old. It spends more than $60 billion on legacy software, and a mere $20 billion on modern innovation. 

Outdated software systems are at risk for cyber attacks. In response to WannaCry, Microsoft offered support services to update old, unsupported versions of Windows.


Previously mistaken as a variant of ransomware Petya, the virus is now considered similar to WannaCry. Spreading rapidly across more than 64 countries, NotPetya originated in M.E.Doc, a tax accounting software company in Ukraine. The virus exploits a loophole in Windows called EternalBlue to gain access to corporate networks, and hackers demand $300 in Bitcoins.

More than 80 companies in Russia and Ukraine are affected by the virus, including the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where radiation monitoring is now being carried out manually on the industrial site. Other major global corporations to be affected include British advertising agency WPP, global shipping firm FedEx, Danish shipping company Maersk, Russian oil and gas powerhouse Rosneft, and pharmaceutical company Merck.