Brad Smith says cyberattack hitting 150 countries is a 'wake-up call'

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 15 May 2017
Brad Smith says cyberattack hitting 150 countries is a 'wake-up call'

Over the course of the weekend, the ‘WannaCrypt’ ransomware, which locks users' files and demands a US$300 payment to allow access, has spread across the globe, impacting organisations including the NHS, FedEx, Renault and the Russian interior ministry.

BBC analysis of three accounts linked to the ransom demands suggests about US$38,000 had been paid by this morning.

In an official statement posted yesterday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said that “the governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call.”

Smith explained that the WannaCrypt exploits used in the attack were drawn from the exploits stolen from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. “That theft was publicly reported earlier this year,” he said. “A month prior, on March 14, Microsoft had released a security update to patch this vulnerability and protect our customers. While this protected newer Windows systems and computers that had enabled Windows Update to apply this latest update, many computers remained unpatched globally. As a result, hospitals, businesses, governments, and computers at homes were affected.

“We take every single cyberattack on a Windows system seriously, and we’ve been working around the clock since Friday to help all our customers who have been affected by this incident. This included a decision to take additional steps to assist users with older systems that are no longer supported. Clearly, responding to this attack and helping those affected needs to be our most immediate priority.”

In light of the attack, Smith said there are three areas where Microsoft and the industry needs to improve.

“As a technology company, we at Microsoft have the first responsibility to address these issues,” he explained. “We increasingly are among the first responders to attacks on the internet. We have more than 3,500 security engineers at the company, and we’re working comprehensively to address cybersecurity threats. This includes new security functionality across our entire software platform, including constant updates to our Advanced Threat Protection service to detect and disrupt new cyberattacks. In this instance, this included the development and release of the patch in March, a prompt update on Friday to Windows Defender to detect the WannaCrypt attack, and work by our customer support personnel to help customers afflicted by the attack.

“But as this attack demonstrates, there is no cause for celebration. We’ll assess this attack, ask what lessons we can learn, and apply these to strengthen our capabilities. Working through our Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit, we’ll also share what we learn with law enforcement agencies, governments, and other customers around the world.

“Second, this attack demonstrates the degree to which cybersecurity has become a shared responsibility between tech companies and customers,” Smith continued. “The fact that so many computers remained vulnerable two months after the release of a patch illustrates this aspect. As cybercriminals become more sophisticated, there is simply no way for customers to protect themselves against threats unless they update their systems. Otherwise they’re literally fighting the problems of the present with tools from the past. This attack is a powerful reminder that information technology basics like keeping computers current and patched are a high responsibility for everyone, and it’s something every top executive should support.

“At the same time, we have a clear understanding of the complexity and diversity of today’s IT infrastructure, and how updates can be a formidable practical challenge for many customers. Today, we use robust testing and analytics to enable rapid updates into IT infrastructure, and we are dedicated to developing further steps to help ensure security updates are applied immediately to all IT environments.

“Finally, this attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. 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 US military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organised criminal action."

Smith concluded by explaining that we should take from this recent attack a renewed determination for more urgent collective action. “We need the tech sector, customers, and governments to work together to protect against cybersecurity attacks. More action is needed, and it’s needed now. In this sense, the WannaCrypt attack is a wake-up call for all of us. We recognise our responsibility to help answer this call, and Microsoft is committed to doing its part.”

Read Brad Smith’s statement in full here.

 

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