Cyber attack subsides after striking dozens of countries

An ambulance is parked at The Royal London Hospital in London, Britain May 13, 2017. Photo By Neil Hall/Reuters

A day after cyber attacks struck dozens of countries around the world, members of the G-7 on Saturday vowed to collaborate to offset future assaults.

In the "ransomware" attack, hackers took control of the computers, encrypting information found there and demanding a ransom of $300 or more to unlock a device.

The news of the hacks first broke on Friday, when Britain's National Health Service disclosed that some of its hospital system had been virtually shut down after the software froze its phone and computer systems, causing widespread cancellations.

The list continued to grow on Friday night and Saturday to include FedEx, Russia's Interior Ministry, a German railway company, schools in China and Indonesia, soccer clubs in Norway and Sweden and brokerage firms in Taiwan, among tens of thousands of others.

One security software company, Avast, told Reuters that its researchers saw more than 126,000 ransom software infections in 99 countries, with many of the strikes targeting Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine.

The European Union's policy agency, Europol, said the barrage of computer viruses had reached "an unprecedented level" requiring a "complex international investigation to identify the culprits."

No one has claimed responsibility for the cyber attack, which by Saturday had begun to subside after an unidentified British researcher who tweets at @MalwareTechBlog reportedly activated a "kill switch," a code built into the ransomware that provided a way of stopping the attack. The researcher registered the kill switch's domain name, and when the site went live it restricted the virus' spread, including to the U.S., The New York Times reported.

The hackers were able to exploit a software program in Microsoft Windows that led to the software's use as a form of a cyber weapon, deceiving users into opening malicious malware attachments.

"We are on a downward slope, the infections are extremely few, because the malware is not able to connect to the registered domain," said Vikram Thakur, principal research manager at the cyber security firm Symantec. "The numbers are extremely low and coming down fast."

Members of the G-7 in the U.S. Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Britain and Italy on Saturday pledged to work together to blunt the effects of future cyber attacks.

"We recognize that cyber incidents represent a growing threat for our economies and that appropriate economy-wide policy responses are needed," they said in a statement.

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