Officials across the globe scrambled over the weekend to catch the culprits behind a massive ransomware worm that disrupted operations at car factories, hospitals, shops and schools, while Microsoft on Sunday pinned blame on the U.S. government for not disclosing more software vulnerabilities.
Cyber security experts said the spread of the worm dubbed WannaCry – “ransomware” that locked up more than 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries – had slowed but that the respite might only be brief amid fears new versions of the worm will strike.
In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft President Brad Smith appeared to tacitly acknowledge what researchers had already widely concluded: The ransomware attack leveraged a hacking tool, built by the U.S. National Security Agency, that leaked online in April.
“This is an emerging pattern in 2017,” Smith wrote. “We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world.”
He also poured fuel on a long-running debate over how government intelligence services should balance their desire to keep software flaws secret – in order to conduct espionage and cyber warfare – against sharing those flaws with technology companies to better secure the internet.
“This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem,” Smith wrote. He added that governments around the world should “treat this attack as a wake-up call” and “consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.”
The NSA and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the Microsoft statement.
Economic experts offered differing views on how much the attack, and associated computer outages, would cost businesses and governments.
The non-profit U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit research institute estimated that total losses would range in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but not exceed $1 billion.
Most victims were quickly able to recover infected systems with backups, said the group’s chief economist, Scott Borg.
California-based cyber risk modeling firm Cyence put the total economic damage at $4 billion, citing costs associated with businesses interruption.