IT SOUNDS like a Hollywood disaster film. A group of hackers use a stolen cyber-weapon to try to extort money from people worldwide. The attack cripples hospitals, causing ambulances to be diverted and operations to be cancelled.
Then a lone security researcher stumbles across a way to halt the bug in its tracks. Yet that is exactly what happened last week when a piece of ransomware called WannaCry, which infects computers running outdated versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, hit not just Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) but Russia’s interior ministry, Chinese universities, Germany’s state railways and plenty more besides.
It could have been much worse. WannaCry does not seem to have been a deliberate attack on hospitals, but a criminal money-making scheme in which the NHS was collateral damage.