On May 12, 2017, the name "WannaCry" came into circulation in the world media as a result of the infection of more than 250 thousand computers in virtually every country in the world by a set of malicious programs. Belonging to the category called ransomware, the code contained in them causes the infected computer to literally demand a cash redemption to return the files contained in the machine, which are hidden inside of a virtual lock whose key only the attacker has.
This type of offensive is nothing new, and its potential use has been known for decades. However, the popularization of personal and business computers, the increasing complexity of the interconnection between global systems through the Internet, and the availability of new virtual means of payment that do not depend on banking transactions (in this case, Bitcoin stands out) are all elements that aligned so that the efficiency of this attack would have a scale never seen before.
In order to understand why this event is important, we must take into account that in addition to the personal losses of individuals, companies that provide services on a worldwide scale, such as Telefónica, the FedEx delivery service and LATAM airlines, have been affected. If that were not enough, tens of thousands of Britain's hospital computers and machines were affected, generating the need for emergency action by the government so that the situation would not affect critically ill patients.
The world security community has for many years informed governments that this type of action is becoming increasingly feasible, and while few cases of attacks have been recorded that were able to affect the critical infrastructure of countries, there is no garantee that this would not be possible. A better orchestrated attack could take down the electrical power supply of one or more parts of a nation, possibly multiple. Systems of sanitation, provision of drinking water, police and military communication, among many others, if prevented from functioning even for a short period of time, can cause incalculable damages.
If we look at the origin of WannaCry, we can identify that the key parts of its code come from virtual weapons created by the US National Security Agency (NSA), the same responsible for the global espionage system that keeps the citizens of the world under constant surveillance. In this case, the NSA guarded these among many other weapons in order to invade target computers that they considered strategic, but a large number were stolen by a group of unknown origin who posted them on the Internet for everyone's eyes. Roughly comparing, it's as if they had stolen boxes of US Army grenades and put them out on the street for anyone to use.
While governments direct taxes for the creation of virtual weapons, the private initiative in conjunction with the academic sector eventually have to solve the problems they generate. The first variant of WannaCry had its progress decelerated by researcher Marcus Hutchins, who discovered a way to "warn" the program that it should not activate, preventing its proliferation. Quickly, variants surged that ignored this command, but researchers at University College London adapted the system they develop, known as PayBreak, to work by unlocking the virtual lock even without the key held by the attacker.
The recommendation for home computers is always the same: never fail to keep your programs up to date, always preferring to invest in an original Operating System rather than a pirate, so you can update it easily and continuously. For companies, it becomes progressively more critical to adopt serious and systematic positions regarding the maintenance of their security. It's not enough to have an IT division, that's something from the past decade. It is necessary to establish firm policies for update and maintenance, which are rigorously followed. Otherwise, damage to private individuals will only grow, and the only ones to gain from this are virtual criminals.