Security experts find clues to ransomware worm's lingering risks

A loose-knit team of security researchers scattered across the globe said they collaborated to develop a workaround to unlock the encryption key for files hit in the global attack, which several independent security researchers have confirmed.

After his fix for Windows XP came out, others looked for ways to extend that to other operating systems and have succeeded in applying the technique to the newer Windows 7 programme.

On Friday, Microsoft took what the software vendor itself called the "highly unusual step of providing a security update for all customers to protect Windows platforms that are in custom support only, including Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003".

Microsoft is now trying to convince users to move over to Windows 10, as numerous devices running on older software still remain vulnerable to attacks. The latest wave of attack has attracted widespread media attention as WannaCry spread to more than 150 countries, locking up 200,000 computers and systems in countries including China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Britain, according to the New York Times.

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A Microsoft spokesman reached Sunday said the company had no comment.

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Suspicious e-mails, on the other hand, are easy to identify. Around 200,000 victims in 150 countries have been affected, according to European Union police force Europol, many of them businesses including major corporations such as Nissan, FedEx and Hitachi.

In mid-march, Microsoft distributed a security update after it detected the security flaw in its XP operating system that enabled the so-called WannaCry ransomware to infiltrate and freeze computers last week.

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But thanks to a level-headed response by the security chiefs in the company, it will be able to recover soon, as they released the software patch free of cost to all the older Windows OS-powered PCs around the world and stopped the WannaCry ransomware from spreading further.

The researchers - Adrien Guinet, Matthieu Suiche and Benjamin Delpy - worked separately to find ways to decrypt files scrambled and held hostage by WannaCry.

WannaCry, which also goes by the name WCry or Wanna Decryptor, covertly encrypts computer files after infecting a computer and then demands owners pay a $300 to $600 ransom to obtain the decryption key required to restore a computer to normal working condition.

Likewise, Bossert emphasized that the only computers that can be compromised by WannaCry are those that do not have the latest security patches available from Microsoft.

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Nonetheless, Bossert added that "we may still see a significant impact on additional networks as these malware attacks morph and change". "That's what the data shows", MWR research head Pratley said.

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