The large-scale "WanaCry" ransomware attack that hit PCs around the world starting last weekend underscored the destructive power of computer viruses.
The effects of the attack seem to be winding down, but people must not let their guard slip. Rather they need to raise their crisis awareness over the possibility of new attacks and take all possible precautions.
The attackers targeted a weakness found in older versions of Microsoft Windows. When infected with the virus, information on the computer is encrypted and rendered unusable, and payment is demanded to restore access to the files.
The damage spread unusually quickly to some 150 countries. The victims included many hospitals in Britain and a major telecommunications company in Spain. Police and experts are now warning that a much more serious cyberattack is possible, and are calling for business operators to take countermeasures.
Most countermeasures are simply a part of fundamental day-to-day operations: Don't neglect software updates, and make sure to back up data. If patches for vulnerabilities are distributed, apply them quickly, and don't open suspicious file attachments.
In the latest attack, many people suffered damage even though Microsoft had distributed a patch in March. We need to gather wisdom on how to speedily implement preventive measures.
In Japan, the damage appeared to be limited to about 20 incidents as of May 18, fewer than in Europe. But people should not be complacent. We hope that the government and businesses will accept the latest attack as a valuable warning and ramp up countermeasures.
At the same time, we want to focus on the possibility that the damage spread as a result of hacking tools leaked from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) being used in the global attack. The NSA has been criticized for knowing about the vulnerability in Windows and using this to develop its own hacking tools instead of quickly reporting the problem to Microsoft.
The agency may have a case in saying that this was an antiterrorism measure. But if states get into a cyber-weapons arms race, it will increase the threat of those weapons falling into the hands of hackers and eventually threatening the everyday lives and safety of ordinary citizens.
The latest events should be an opportunity to intensify international discussion on management of and restrictions on cyber weapons.