In the same way that bacteria mutate to become resistant to antibiotics, so has the WannaCry virus.
That malware was behind the massive ransomware attack that started Friday, hitting more than 150 countries and 200,000 computers, shutting down hospitals, universities, warehouses and banks.
The attack locked people out of their computers, demanding they pay up to $300 worth of bitcoin apiece or risk losing their important files forever. The attack quickly spread across the world, until a cybersecurity researcher accidentally found a kill switch in the code -- an unregistered domain name that he purchased for $10.69 to halt the WannaCry hack, at least temporarily.
Hackers have since updated the ransomware, this time without the kill switch. New variations of the ransomwar have popped up without the Achilles heel and bearing the name Uiwix, according to researchers at Heimdal Security.
WannaCry harks back to an earlier era of computing insecurity, when viruses routinely swept across the internet, causing widespread disruption and spurring desperate fixes that befit their often ominous names: Mydoom, BadTrans, Sobig, Netsky. Ransomware puts a new spin on that threat, and it's a growth industry. Security company Symantec says that ransomware attacks jumped by more than one-third to over 483,800 incidents in 2016.
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WannaCry is the largest cyber-extortion scheme ever, and is a signal that the danger is far from over.