WannaCry Cyberattack Explained

  • By Ari Daniel
  • Posted 05.25.17
  • NOVA

The WannaCry cyberattack cost the economy billions of dollars. Here's why that's scary.

Running Time: 01:56


Onscreen: The cyberattack called WannaCry has already cost the global economy billions. Ten years ago, an attack of this scale this never could’ve happened. But today, the internet drives the daily operations of hospitals, factories, and railroads.

Jean Yang: Technology is much more deeply embedded into our lives. That makes this attack so big.

Onscreen: The systems we depend on the most — for medical care, transportation, communication — are the most vulnerable. The NSA collects those vulnerabilities that the hackers stole to wage their attack. Here’s the deal. WannaCry is a kind of computer virus called ransomware.

Vincenzo Iozzo: With ransomware, you receive an email, you need to click on the attachment, you install the attachment, and then your computer is infected.

Onscreen: Which blocks access to your files. Unless you pay money. Hence the name: ransomware. WannaCry went goes a crucial step further. It takes advantage of a bug inside older versions of Windows to amplify the hack.

Iozzo: Once one person clicked on the ransomware, then everyone else in your internal network would automatically be compromised.

Onscreen: Places like hospitals and factories are filled with networked machines. So WannaCry spread fast.

Yang: Who was vulnerable to this attack was people using un-updated versions of Windows, which happens to be just a lot of people.

Onscreen: Software updates contain crucial security patches. But installing them isn’t always possible in places where it may matter the most.

Joe Weiss: You have critical work stations that if you shut them down to patch, you shut down, for example, a steel mill or a power plant. So you can’t do that.

Yang: In the government, software needs to be approved for a long time before they’re allowed to put it onto their computers. So those systems are actually super vulnerable.

Onscreen: Leaving the services we depend on running outdated systems on networked computers vulnerable to more attacks.



Digital Producer
Ari Daniel
Director of Digital Media
Lauren Aguirre
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2017




(main image: Ransomware title)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2017

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