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Europe’s leading security chief warns of global cyberattack

The “unprecedented” ransomware cyberattack has hit as many as 200,000 victims in over 150 countries, Europe’s leading security chief said on Sunday and warned of possible fresh disruption when workers switch on their computers at the start of the working week on Monday.

The countries, including India, were hit by what is believed to be the biggest-ever recorded cyberattack on Friday with investigators looking for those behind the hack that affected systems at banks, hospitals and government agencies globally, media reports said.

“At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat. The numbers are going up, I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn (on) their machines on Monday morning,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright said.

The threat was “escalating” as cyber experts warned that another attack was imminent in coming days, he said.

“The global reach is unprecedented. The latest count is over 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries and those victims many of those will be businesses including large corporations,” Wainwright said.

Friday’s ransomware attack hit over 125,000 computer systems, with 48 National Health Service (NHS) trusts having to cancel appointment and operations.

As nearly 45 NHS organisations from London to Scotland were hit in the “ransomware” attack on Friday, patients of the state-funded countrywide service faced chaos as appointments and surgeries had to be cancelled.

The virus, which took control of users’ files, spread to 100 countries, including India, the UK, Spain, France and Russia.

Oliver Gower of the UK’s National Crime Agency said, “cyber criminals may believe they are anonymous, but we will use all the tools at our disposal to bring them to justice”.

After taking computers over, the virus displayed messages demanding a payment of $300 in virtual currency Bitcoin to unlock files and return them to the user.

BBC analysis of three accounts linked with the global attack suggests the hackers have already been paid the equivalent of $28,458.

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