Chicago, Illinois. A software tool developed for American national security has been turned loose on society by an unknown group of hackers, that we suspect will only be a matter of time before they are “discovered” to be “Russian hackers.”

Cyber attacks leveraging hacking tools developed by the US National Security Agency have infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries worldwide, disrupting Britain’s health system and global delivery service FedEx.

The cyber extortionists tricked victims into opening malicious malware attachments to spam emails that appeared to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other legitimate files that would require a simple click through response.

The ransomware encrypted data messages sent by computer, demanding payments of $300 to $600 to restore access. Security researchers said they observed some victims paying via the digital currency bitcoin, though they did not know what percent had given in to the extortionists.

Researchers with security software maker Avast said they had observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets. The most disruptive attacks were reported in Britain, where hospitals and clinics were forced to turn away patients after losing access to computers on Friday.

There were only a small number of US based organizations were hit because the hackers appear to have begun the campaign by targeting organizations in Europe, said Dirshit Gopnikli, from security software maker Norton.

By the time the hackers turned their attention to the United States, spam filters had identified the new threat and flagged the ransomware-laden emails as malicious, Gopnikli added.

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