TANZANIA is among at least 150 countries around the world that have been targeted by an unprecedented large scale global attack against computers, it has ben revealed.
The cyber-attack, which began on Friday last week, has thus far hit some 200,000 victims globally, but IT experts fear that the number of victims could grow when people return to work today.
Cyber security experts say the spread of the virus dubbed WannaCry - "ransomware" which locked up computers in car factories, hospitals, shops and schools in several countries - has slowed, but that any respite might be brief.
The Tanzanian government said it was not officially aware of any institutions - public or private - that have been affected by the cyber attack in the country as of now.
“As government, we haven’t identified any company or institution that has been affected by the computer virus in Tanzania, but what we do is to alert people to take precautions against this new computer attack,” the Deputy Minister for Works, Transport and Communication, Edwin Ngonyani, told The Guardian.
The list of African countries affected by the WannaCry ransomware includes Tanzania, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria and Kenya as the attack continues to spread globally, cyber crimes experts warned.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) issued a "critical alert to computer users" in the country over the weekend to watch out for the cyber attack.
"Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority is aware of a number of reported incidents of widely spread computer malicious software named WannaCry Ransomware that infects computer files. The infection has affected several thousands of computers worldwide," TCRA said.
"Ransomware is a type of malicious software family that infects and prevents users from accessing their files or systems, either by locking the system’s screen or by encrypting the user’s files."
TCRA said hackers behind the attack demand a certain amount of money from victims as ransom to release infected files from their computers.
"The payment is not a guarantee for access to the infected files. Users and organisations are discouraged from paying the ransom," said TCRA.
The regulator explained that the WannaCry Ransomware infects Windows-based computers that have outdated and unpatched software.
TCRA advised computer users in Tanzania to keep their computers’ security software, operating system and other software up-to-date, review security alerts issued by the Tanzania Computer Emergency Response Teams, apply patches to Windows systems as published in Microsoft security Bulletin and perform regular backup of all critical information and store offline to limit the impact of data or system loss and for easy restoration of data if affected.
The telecoms watchdog also advised Tanzanians to avoid opening unknown attachments in unsolicited email and where necessary scan all attachments with up-to-date antivirus before opening, avoid following links to an external unknown website, especially when not sure of the link and employ a principle of least privilege to its users by restricting any user to have access to install software into the organisation’s computers.
The head of the European Union's police agency (Europol), Rob Wainwright, said the cyber attack was unique in that the ransomware was used in combination with "a worm functionality" so the infection spread automatically.
"The global reach is unprecedented. The latest count is over 200,000 victims in at least 150 countries, and those victims, many of those will be businesses, including large corporations," he said.
"At the moment, we are in the face of an escalating threat. The numbers are going up; I am worried about how the numbers will continue to grow when people go to work and turn (on) their machines on Monday morning."
He said Europol and other agencies did not yet know who was behind the attack but "normally it is criminally minded and that is our first working theory for obvious reasons".
"Of course there are amounts that are being demanded, in this case relatively small amounts - $300 rising to $600 if you don't pay within three days," he said.
"(There have been) remarkably few payments so far that we've noticed as we are tracking this, so most people are not paying this, so there isn't a lot of money being made by criminal organisations so far."
Wainwright said Europol had been concerned about cyber security in the healthcare sector, which deals with a lot of sensitive data, but declined to comment on whether Britain's National Health Service had been adequately funded.
Defence minister Michael Fallon told the BBC the government under Prime Minister Theresa May was spending around 50 million pounds on improving the computer systems in the NHS after warning the service that it needed to reduce its exposure to "the weakest system, the Windows XP".
"The NHS was not particularly targeted. There were the same attacks applied to Nissan on Friday and in other areas of the economy and indeed around the world," Fallon said.