AT LEAST 10 computers installed at customer care centres of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) in West Midnapore were on Monday attacked by ransomware virus ‘WannaCry’ — a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid. While the virus initially attacked computers in Belda, Datan and Narayangarh blocks of West Midnapore, it later spread to systems operational at Balurghat in South Dinajpur and Chaitanyapur in East Midnapore.
“So far, the virus has not succeeded in affecting our commercial operations. Those computers affected by the virus were mainly used to download files and checking mails,” chairman and MD of State Electricity Distribution Company Limited Rajesh Pandey told PTI.
When contacted, state Power Minister Sovandeb Chattapadhay said: “Four of our customer care units were attacked by the world’s biggest ransomware. However, since we have a central server system, it did not affect any consumer database and services were normal. All measures are being taken to ensure it does not affect the entire network.” Officials said approximately 5,000 computers operate at WBSEDCL’s customer care centers in West Midnapore.
“On Monday morning, when the staff tried to switch on their computers, they found a message demanding $300 in virtual currency to unlock the computers… Initially, it was considered to be a local cyber attack but later it was found to be a ransomware virus,” said an official. “The ransom message said the payment can be made through the Bitcoin gateway,” he added.
An official statement issued by WBSEDCL said: “WBSEDCL remains largely unaffected from the global ransomware attack that has jeopardised cyber security across the world. Some of the systems of our customer care centres were initially attacked, which had no impact on our overall business operations. Customer data is fully protected and there is no impact on day to day functioning of the company. Customer services, including bill collection, has been normal across all CCC’s (customer care centres) of WBSEDCL throughout the state.”
Sources said the cyber security arm of the Centre has asked banks, stock exchanges, and other vital institutions to safeguard their systems against ransomware, which has infected thousands of systems globally. “We are aware of the cyber attack. No one thought it would affect Bengal. Now that we know we are under attack, alternative arrangements are being made. If it attacks our system, we will fight… precautions are being taken,” said an official from a nationalised bank. The state government, in an advisory on Monday, asked IT officials to strictly follow the guidelines issued by the Centre to steer clear of the attack.
What is WannaCry?
The ‘WannaCry’ bug encrypts data on a computer within seconds and displays a message asking the user to pay a ransom of $300 in Bitcoins to restore access to the device and data inside. Payment is demanded within three days or the price is doubled, and if none is received within seven days, the locked files will be deleted, according to a message displayed on the screen.
Even FedEx, European car factories, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, Britain’s health service and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn rail network have been hit by the bug recently. Though it is not known who are behind the attack, it is widely accepted that the hackers used the ‘Eternal Blue Hacking Weapon’ created by the US’ National Security Agency to execute the bug.