Malware, described in leaked NSA documents, cripples computers worldwide

From The Washington Post and reported by Craig Timberg, Griff Witte, and Ellen Nakashima — image courtesy of sudok1, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hackers unleashed an attack that disabled computers in dozens of nations Friday using a software flaw that once was part of the National Security Agency’s surveillance tool kit.

The resulting wave of online chaos affected tens of thousands of machines worldwide, snarling operations at the Russian Interior Ministry, Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica and Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), where hospitals were hobbled and medical procedures interrupted.

Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia were hit particularly hard, although in the United States, FedEx also reported falling prey to the malware. The attack was the latest in a growing menace of “ransomware,” in which hackers deliver files to computers that automatically encrypt their data, making it unusable — until a ransom is paid.

“This is not targeted at the NHS,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters. “It’s an international attack, and a number of countries and organizations have been affected.”

The hack renewed a long-running debate about the dangers of intelligence agencies such as the NSA collecting and using software flaws for espionage, rather than quickly alerting companies to vulnerabilities so they can fix them.

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