You Can Thank the NSA for Ransomware Attacks Targeting Hospitals

Over the weekend, thousands of computers all across the globe — from the United States to the United Kingdom and Russia — fell victim to ransomware attacks.

At least 150 different countries were affected by the so-called WannaCry worm, software that, when installed on a computer running Microsoft Windows, prevents its use unless money is sent to the hacker — hence the term “ransomware.”

The attacks have proven especially disruptive for hospitals around the world. At the largest cancer treatment hospital in India, patients endured significant delays. And in the UK, many hospitals were left unable to take X-rays or access blood test records at all. In one case, a man was unable to undergo surgery after spending the entire day having his operation repeatedly delayed.

A number of other sectors were impacted too. Thus far, estimates find that the U.S. economy lost $4 billion as a result of the attacks.

Though the spread of WannaCry seems to be largely contained – at least for now– experts fret that a new iteration of the worm will be created and released to once again cause trouble. At present, the culprits behind the ransomware attacks have yet to be identified.

That said, the National Security Agency, or NSA, bears a significant portion of responsibility for more than 200,000 compromised computers around the world.

The methods used by the NSA to gather and discreetly access individuals’ data has come under the microscope following the initial Edward Snowden leaks in 2013. One of these tactics, it was revealed, involved the use of software “backdoors” — essentially security weakness that could be externally exploited to gain access to otherwise protected data.

In 2015, over a dozen of the world’s most prominent experts in the field of cryptography issued their assessment regarding the use of backdoors by agencies like the NSA — and they roundly objected. One of their key arguments behind this conclusion centered on the possibility that such backdoor tools could be exploited by malicious actors.

Cryptography experts also raised concerns that such vulnerabilities would prompt international markets to drop their use of U.S. technology, a major facet of the modern economy.

The head of the NSA, Director Mike Rogers, completely rejected these concerns, arguing against the likelihood of such eventualities. In fact, Rogers went so far as to encourage U.S. technology companies to work with the NSA to deliberately create backdoors — a move that the heads of companies like Apple and Yahoo firmly oppose.

Two years later, it would appear that there is egg on Director Rogers’ face. Who would have thought that the world’s foremost cybersecurity experts and the country’s leading tech corporations knew what they were talking about?

This past weekend’s ransomware debacle shows that the NSA — and Obama’s policy on information privacy — is a disaster. Worse, these types of attacks may become increasingly sophisticated, threatening critical infrastructure.

It is deeply troubling that the NSA, in its imperative to establish and maintain a civil rights-violating system of surveillance, chose to completely disregard the potential consequences of its actions.

Given the current political climate, it seems unlikely that President Donald Trump would be willing to find a pro-privacy replacement for Rogers. As such, it is the responsibility of the NSA to thoroughly reconsider its position on information security and to perhaps heed expert warnings before a genuine catastrophe occurs.

Photo Credit: Andrew_Writer/Flickr

65 comments

Telica R
Telica R12 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W28 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 months ago

Actually, we can thank ObamaCare because that is why all our records are online!

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Carl R
Carl R5 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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Carl R
Carl R6 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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william Miller
william Miller6 months ago

thanks

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Steve F
Steve F6 months ago

All responsibilities for the latest malware attacks should be assigned to the anonymous hackers, not NSA. Some blame must go to Microsoft, who did not catch the vulnerabilites of their software on time.

It is not clear at all what NSA had to do with the problem, except perhaps to discover the weakness in Windows software but to remain silent. Any attempt to blame NSA is misguided.

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Danuta W
Danuta W6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

You can never be too careful Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W6 months ago

Very informative Great advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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