Hacking attack hits companies worldwide with ransom demands

A Kiwi technology expert says a global cyber attack now apparently affecting New Zealand is hugely worrying.

The computer bug has locked technology with 'ransomware' blocking access to files until thousands of dollars are paid via BitCoin.

"This is one that has spread at much more rapid pace than any other ransomware I can recall, and it's inflicted a huge amount of damage where we first heard about it with the National Health Service in the UK," Gorilla Technology's Paul Spain says.

The ransomware programme called WanaCryptor has taken much of Britain's healthcare services offline and is even targeting Russia. It works by exploiting a vulnerability in Windows.

New Zealand Police says it is not yet aware of any incidents in New Zealand related to the attacks.

Britain's NHS has released a statement saying: "A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack which is affecting a number of different organisations.

"At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May told UK media: "This is not targeted at the NHS, it’s an international attack." 

The attacks appear to have been carried out by hackers using a tool stolen from the US National Security Agency, the Guardian says.

On Twitter, whistleblower Edward Snowden blamed the NSA.

"If @NSAGov had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they *found* it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened," he said.

A live-tracking map shows reports of attacks from around the world, which appears to include New Zealand. 

The New Zealand Government's Chief Technology Officer has been approached for comment.