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China hit by cyber virus, Europe warns of more attacks

The WannaCry “ransomware” cyber attack hobbled Chinese traffic police and schools on Monday as it rolled into Asia for the new work week, while authorities in Europe said they were trying to prevent hackers from spreading new versions of the virus.

In Britain, where the virus first raised global alarm when it caused hospitals to divert ambulances on Friday, it gained traction as a political issue just weeks before a general election. The opposition Labour Party accused the Conservative government of leaving the National Health Service vulnerable.

Shares in firms that provide cyber security services rose with the prospect that companies and governments would have to spend more money on defenses.

Some victims were ignoring official advice and paying the $300 ransom demanded by the cyber criminals to unlock their computers, which was due to double to $600 on Monday for computers hit by Friday’s first wave.

Brian Lord, managing director of cyber and technology at cyber security firm PGI, said victims had told him the hackers offered good service, with helpful advice on how to pay: “One customer said they actually forgot they were being robbed.”

But the hackers do not appear so far to have been well rewarded: only about $50,000 has been transferred to their online wallets so far, according to Elliptic Labs which tracks transactions using the internet currency bitcoin.

Although the virus’s spread was curbed over the weekend in most of the world, France, where carmaker Renault (PA:RENA) was among the world’s highest profile victims, said more attacks were likely.

“We should expect similar attacks regularly in the coming days and weeks,” said Giullaume Poupard, head of French government cyber security agency ANSSI. “Attackers update their software … other attackers will learn from the method and will carry out attacks.”

Companies and governments spent the weekend upgrading software to limit the spread of the virus. Monday was the first big test for Asia, where offices had already mostly been closed for the weekend before the attack first arrived.

British media were hailing as a hero a 22-year-old computer security whiz who appeared to have helped stop the attack from spreading by discovering a “kill switch” – an internet address which halted the virus when activated.

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