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WannaCry ransomware attack

The WannaCry ransomware attack was a worldwide cyberattack by the WannaCry[a] ransomware cryptoworm, which targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.[8]

Wana Decrypt0r screenshot.png
Screenshot of the ransom note left on an infected system
Date 12 May 2017 – 15 May 2017
(initial outbreak)[1]
Location Worldwide
Also known as Transformations:
Wanna → Wana
Cryptor → Crypt0r
Cryptor → Decryptor
Cryptor → Crypt → Cry
Addition of "2.0"
Short names:
Wanna → WN → W
Cry → CRY
Type Cyberattack
Theme Ransomware encrypting files with $300 – $600 demand (via bitcoin)
  • WannaCry worm
Outcome Over 200,000 victims and more than 230,000 computers infected[2][3]

The attack started on Friday, 12 May 2017,[9] and within a day was reported to have infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries.[10][11] Parts of Britain's National Health Service (NHS), Spain's Telefónica, FedEx and Deutsche Bahn were hit, along with many other countries and companies worldwide.[12][13][14]

WannaCry spreads across local networks and the Internet[15] to systems that have not been updated with recent security updates, to directly infect any exposed systems.[6][16] A "critical" patch had been issued by Microsoft on 14 March 2017 to remove the underlying vulnerability for supported systems, nearly two months before the attack,[17] but many organizations had not yet applied it.[18] Those still running exposed older, unsupported operating systems such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, were initially at particular risk but the day after the outbreak Microsoft took the unusual step of releasing updates for these operating systems too.[4][19] Almost all victims were running Windows 7.[20]

Much of the attention and comment around the event was occasioned by the fact that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had discovered the vulnerability in the past, but instead of informing Microsoft, had built the EternalBlue exploit for their own offensive work.[21][22] It was only when the existence of this was revealed by The Shadow Brokers that Microsoft became aware of the issue, and could produce a security update.[23]

Shortly after the attack began, a web security researcher who blogs as "MalwareTech" discovered an effective kill switch by registering a domain name he found in the code of the ransomware. This greatly slowed the spread of the infection, effectively halting the initial outbreak on Monday, 15 May 2017, but new versions have since been detected that lack the kill switch.[24][25][26][27] Researchers have also found ways to recover data from infected machines under some circumstances.[20]

Within four days of the initial outbreak, security experts were saying that most organizations had applied updates, and that new infections had slowed to a trickle.[28]


WannaCry malwareEdit

WannaCry[a] is the ransomware computer worm that targets computers running Microsoft Windows.[29] Initially, the worm uses the EternalBlue exploit to enter a computer, taking advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft's implementation of the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. It installs DoublePulsar, a backdoor implant tool, which then transfers and runs the WannaCry ransomware package.

Several organizations have released detailed technical writeups of the malware, including Microsoft,[30] Cisco,[15] Malwarebytes,[31] and McAfee.[32]

The "payload" works in the same fashion as most modern ransomware: it finds and encrypts a range of data files, then displays a "ransom note" informing the user and demanding a payment in bitcoin.[33] It is considered a network worm because it also includes a "transport" mechanism to automatically spread itself. This transport code scans for vulnerable systems, then uses the EternalBlue exploit to gain access, and the DoublePulsar tool to install and execute a copy of itself.[15]

"Kill switch"Edit

The software contained a URL that, when discovered and registered by a security researcher to track activity from infected machines, was found to act as a "kill switch" that shuts down the software, stopping the spread of the ransomware. The researcher speculated that this had been included in the software as a mechanism to prevent it being run on quarantined machines so that it is harder for anti-virus researchers to investigate the software; he observed that some sandbox environments will respond to all queries with traffic in order to trick the software into thinking that it is still able to access the internet, so the software queried an "intentionally unregistered domain" to verify it was receiving traffic that it should not.[34] He also noted that it was not an unprecedented technique, having been observed in the Necurs trojan.[34]

On 19 May it was reported that hackers were trying to use a Mirai botnet variant to effect a distributed attack on WannaCry's kill-switch domain with the intention of knocking it offline.[35] On 22 May @MalwareTechBlog protected the domain by switching to a cached version of the site, capable of dealing with much higher traffic loads than the live site.[36]


The network infection vector, EternalBlue, was released by the hacker group called The Shadow Brokers on 14 April 2017,[23] along with other tools apparently leaked from Equation Group, which is widely believed to be part of the United States National Security Agency.[37][38]

EternalBlue exploits vulnerability MS17-010[17] in Microsoft's implementation of the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol.[29] This Windows vulnerability was not a zero-day flaw, but one for which Microsoft had released a "critical" advisory, along with a security patch to fix the vulnerability two months before, on 14 March 2017.[17] The patch was to the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol used by Windows,[39][40] and fixed several versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system, including Windows Vista onwards (with the exception of Windows 8), as well as server and embedded versions such as Windows Server 2008 onwards and Windows Embedded POSReady 2009 respectively, but not the older unsupported Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.[17] The day after the WannaCry outbreak Microsoft released updates for these too.[4][19]

Windows 10 did not have the vulnerability.[41]


DoublePulsar is a backdoor tool, also released by The Shadow Brokers on 14 April 2017,[23] Starting from 21 April 2017, security researchers reported that computers with the DoublePulsar backdoor installed were in the tens of thousands.[42] By 25 April, reports estimated the number of infected computers to be up to several hundred thousands, with numbers increasing exponentially every day.[43][44] The WannaCry code can take advantage of any existing DoublePulsar infection, or installs it itself.[15][45][46]


Cybersecurity companies Kaspersky Lab and Symantec have both said the code has some similarities with that previously used by the Lazarus Group[47] (believed to have carried out the cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014 and a Bangladesh bank heist in 2016—and linked to North Korea).[47] However, this could also be either simple re-use of code by another group,[48] or an attempt to shift blame—as in a cyber false flag operation.[47] North Korea itself denies being responsible for the cyberattack.[49][50]

Linguistic analysis of the ransom notes indicated the authors were likely fluent in Chinese and proficient in English, as the versions of the notes in those languages were probably human-written while the rest seemed to be machine-translated.[51]


Map of the countries initially affected[52]

On 12 May 2017 WannaCry began affecting computers worldwide,[53] with evidence pointing to an initial infection in Asia at 7:44am UTC.[9][54] The initial infection was likely through an exposed vulnerable SMB port,[55] rather than email phishing as initially assumed.[9]

When executed, the malware first checks the "kill switch" domain name;[b] if it is not found, then the ransomware encrypts the computer's data,[56][33][57] then attempts to exploit the SMB vulnerability to spread out to random computers on the Internet,[31] and "laterally" to computers on the same network.[32] As with other modern ransomware, the payload displays a message informing the user that files have been encrypted, and demands a payment of around $300 in bitcoin within three days, or $600 within seven days.[33][58]

Organizations that had not installed Microsoft's security update were affected by the attack.[39] Those still running the older Windows XP[59] were at particularly high risk because no security patches had been released since April 2014 (with the exception of one emergency patch released in May 2014).[4][60] However, the day after the outbreak Microsoft released an emergency security patch for Windows XP.[4] As of May 2017, less than 0.1 percent of the affected computers were running Windows XP.[61]

A Kaspersky Labs study reports that 98 percent of the affected computers were running Windows 7.[61]

According to Wired, affected systems will also have had the DoublePulsar backdoor installed; this will also need to be removed when systems are decrypted.[7]

Three hardcoded bitcoin addresses, or "wallets", are used to receive the payments of victims. As with all such wallets, their transactions and balances are publicly accessible even though the wallet owners remain unknown.[62] As of 25 May 2017, at 7:40 UTC, a total of 302 payments totaling $126,742.48 (49.60319 BTC) had been transferred.[63]

Defensive responseEdit

Several hours after the initial release of the ransomware on 12 May 2017, while trying to establish the size of the attack, a researcher known by the name MalwareTech[64][34] accidentally discovered what amounted to a "kill switch" hardcoded in the malware.[65][66][67] Registering a domain name for a DNS sinkhole stopped the attack spreading as a worm, because the ransomware only encrypted the computer's files if it was unable to connect to that domain, which all computers infected with WannaCry before the website's registration had been unable to do. While this did not help already infected systems, it severely slowed the spread of the initial infection and gave time for defensive measures to be deployed worldwide, particularly in North America and Asia, which had not been attacked to the same extent as elsewhere.[68][69][70][71]

Microsoft released a statement recommending users install update MS17-010 to protect themselves against the attack.[4] In an unusual move, the company also made security patches available to the general public for several out-of-support versions of Windows, including Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003.[4]

On 16 May 2017, researchers from University College London and Boston University reported that their PayBreak system could defeat WannaCry and several other families of ransomware.[72][73] On 19 May 2017, a group of French security researchers reported that they had found a way to unlock the program without paying the ransom under some circumstances.[74] Several other tools have been released to help protecting against the WannaCry malware, among which WannaSmile,[75] that disables the SMBv1 protocol which implementations embed the flaw and WannaPatch[citation needed] that detects if a system is vulnerable and, if so, automates the downloading of the needed patch.

Within four days of the initial outbreak, security experts were saying that most organizations had applied updates, and that new infections had slowed to a trickle.[28]

A flaw in the encryption used by the WannaCry malware has been used to create a tool called "WannaKey" which can, in some cases, decrypt a WannaCry infected Windows XP PC's files. It works by pulling traces of a private key from the memory of an infected Windows XP computer, but its creator, Adrien Guinet, cautions that "the trick fails if the malware or any other process happened to overwrite the lingering decryption key, or if the computer rebooted any time after infection". Guinet recommends users leave the computer untouched until they can run his program.[76] This tool was later reused by other researchers for a new tool "wanakiwi" that also works for Windows Server 2003 and Windows 7.[74]

Advice on ransomEdit

Experts advised against paying the ransom due to no early reports of people getting their data back after payment and as high revenues would encourage more of such campaigns.[77][78][79]


The ransomware campaign was unprecedented in scale according to Europol,[10] which estimates that around 200,000 computers were infected across 150 countries. According to Kaspersky Lab, the four most affected countries were Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan.[80]

The attack affected many National Health Service hospitals in England and Scotland,[81] and up to 70,000 devices – including computers, MRI scanners, blood-storage refrigerators and theatre equipment – may have been affected.[82] On 12 May, some NHS services had to turn away non-critical emergencies, and some ambulances were diverted.[83][84] In 2016, thousands of computers in 42 separate NHS trusts in England were reported to be still running Windows XP.[59] NHS hospitals in Wales and Northern Ireland were unaffected by the attack.[85][83]

Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK in Tyne and Wear, England, halted production after the ransomware infected some of their systems. Renault also stopped production at several sites in an attempt to stop the spread of the ransomware.[86][87]

The attack's impact is said to be relatively low compared to other potential attacks of the same type and could have been much worse had a security expert, who was independently researching the malware, not discovered that a kill-switch had been built in by its creators[88][89] or if it had been specifically targeted on highly critical infrastructure, like nuclear power plants, dams or railway systems.[90][91]


Via a honeypot mechanism, Security researcher Miroslav Stampar detected a new malware named "EternalRocks" that uses seven leaked NSA hacking tools and leaves Windows machines vulnerable for future attacks that may occur at any time. When installed, the worm names itself WannaCry in attempt to evade security experts.[92][93][94][95]


A number of experts highlighted the NSA's non-disclosure of the underlying vulnerability, and their loss of control over the EternalBlue attack tool that exploited it. Edward Snowden said that if the NSA had "privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they found it, not when they lost it, [the attack] may not have happened".[96] British cybersecurity expert Graham Cluley also sees "some culpability on the part of the U.S. intelligence services". According to him and others "they could have done something ages ago to get this problem fixed, and they didn't do it". He also said that despite obvious uses for such tools to spy on people of interest, they have a duty to protect their countries' citizens.[97] Others have also commented that this attack shows that the practice of intelligence agencies to stockpile exploits for offensive purposes rather than disclosing them for defensive purposes may be problematic.[89] Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith wrote, "Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen."[98][99][100] Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the responsibility of the attack on U.S. intelligence services, for having created EternalBlue.[101]
On 17 May United States bipartisan lawmakers introduced the PATCH Act[102] that aims to have exploits reviewed by an independent board to "balance the need to disclose vulnerabilities with other national security interests while increasing transparency and accountability to maintain public trust in the process".[103]

A cybersecurity researcher, working in loose collaboration with UK's National Cyber Security Centre,[104][105] researched the malware and discovered a "kill switch".[34] Later globally dispersed security researchers collaborated online to develop open source tools[106][107] that allow for decryption without payment under some circumstances.[74] Snowden states that when "[NSA]-enabled ransomware eats the Internet, help comes from researchers, not spy agencies" and asks why this is the case.[108][109][105]

Other experts also used the publicity around the attack as a chance to reiterate the value and importance of having good, regular and secure backups, good cybersecurity including isolating critical systems, using appropriate software, and having the latest security patches installed.[110] Adam Segal, director of the digital and cyberspace policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, stated that "the patching and updating systems are broken, basically, in the private sector and in government agencies".[89] In addition, Segal said that governments' apparent inability to secure vulnerabilities "opens a lot of questions about backdoors and access to encryption that the government argues it needs from the private sector for security".[89] Arne Schönbohm, President of Germany's Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), stated that "the current attacks show how vulnerable our digital society is. It's a wake-up call for companies to finally take IT security [seriously]".[40]

The effects of the attack also had political implications; in the UK the impact on the NHS quickly became political, with claims that the effects were exacerbated by Government under-funding of the NHS, in particular the refusal to pay extra to keep protecting outdated Windows XP systems from such attacks.[111] Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused to say whether patient data had been backed up, and Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth accused Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of refusing to act on a critical note from Microsoft, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Crime Agency that had been received two months previously.[112] Others argued that hardware and software vendors often fail to account for future security flaws, selling systems that − due to their technical design and market incentives − eventually won't be able to properly receive and apply patches.[113]

Affected organizationsEdit

The following is an alphabetical list of organisations confirmed to have been affected:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b The worm is also known as WannaCrypt,[4] WanaCrypt0r 2.0,[5][6] Wanna Decryptor[7]
  2. ^


  1. ^
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