About two years ago, hundreds of thousands of computers across the world were struck by an indiscriminate computer virus. The virus, called Wannacry, locked users out of their computer systems until they agreed to pay a “ransom” fee to decrypt their files.
The virus rapidly spread to more than 300,000 computers across 150 different countries, not only impacting individual computer users, but companies and hospitals as well. In England and Scotland, computers at hospitals run by the National Health Service (NHS) became infected, impacting MRI scanners, refrigerators storing blood, and operating equipment. This impacted timely delivery of critical health services.
The attack, which the US and other countries believe was orchestrated by North Korea, served as a global wakeup call to a new era of cyberattacks.
Though WannaCry — a type of virus known as ransomware — was not the first of its kind, the international incident highlighted how dangerous state-sponsored cyberwarfare can be and how quickly it can spread.
Last year,Microsoft launched a global movement called the Digital Peace Now campaign, which seeks to protect shared technologies and prevent future attacks on those technologies by, calling for digital peace in every corner of the world.
Though the WannaCry attack was stopped within a few days, its impact is still felt. The attack served as a warning that, without global cooperation among governments, the world could see even more wide-ranging attacks.
Digital peace is still needed — here are three important reasons why.
1. The WannaCry Cyberattack was felt around the world and impacted real people.
Though large-scale human harm was averted, the WannaCry attacks spread rapidly to hundreds of thousands of computers around the world, bringing some of the most important functions of society to a grinding halt.
For example, the malware infected NHS computers causing approximately 19,000 appointments to be canceled, including a critical heart surgery.
And in Taiwan, Wannacry “crippled” multiple factories and may have cost the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. $170 million. In fact, estimates for the total cost of the global operational disruption caused by the attack range from hundreds of millions of dollars to more than $4 billion.
2. Stopping cyberwarfare and attacks like WannaCry requires government action and digital diplomacy.
WannaCry was hardly the first government-sponsored cyberattack, but given how quickly and indiscriminately it spread, and the potential danger for similar attacks in the future, governments came together to take coordinated diplomatic action. Six governments, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan joined in attributing the attack to North Korea and calling it out as the perpetrator.
Since WannaCry, governments have joined together after significant attacks, attributing the attacks to their perpetrators in an effort to “name and shame” those who choose to act recklessly in cyberspace. However, this devastating attack, like many others since, was only made possible in the first place because governments were — and still are — actively investing in building cyber tools that can be misused or weaponized.
While governments may intend to use these tools responsibly, the WannaCry attack clearly shows how easy it is to repurpose these tools to harm innocent people.
This past year has seen major milestones in the effort for digital peace, including the unprecedented establishment of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, an agreement on principles to protect cyberspace that is now signed by 65 governments and counting. The Paris Call represents a historic accomplishment, but we still need more governments, like the United States, to join the agreement and more action to protect cyberspace, including the involvement of the United Nations.
3. Digital peace cannot be achieved without united voices.
Since last fall, more than 130,000 Global Citizens have signed their names to a groundswell movement for peace in the online world. Their support served as the spark to help unify hundreds of leading world voices — including the heads of major governments — to stop cyberattacks and protect our shared global internet, including the interconnected technologies, institutions like democratic elections, and systems needed for daily life and global change.
The movement needs continued engagement through efforts like the Digital Peace petition and conversations with local leaders to make them aware of the need for digital peace now and always!