Good morning, Quartz readers!
No one had to click a phishing link, download a PDF, or visit a sketchy website to contract the ransomware that worked its way into 300,000 computers within a matter of hours last week. To contract the WannaCry ransomware, the only thing Windows users had to do was nothing.
By the time the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) announced on May 12 that Windows computers in 16 of its facilities had beeninfected with ransomware all at once, security researchers had been sounding the alarm about a Microsoft exploit called EternalBlue for weeks. It had been released a month earlier by an anonymous hacker group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, who claimed they’d stolen it from the US National Security Agency.
EternalBlue was what allowed WannaCry to spread so quickly. It preyed on Windows computers that hadn’t been updated with a security patch Microsoft released in March. Every time the software lands on an unpatched computer, it disguises itself as a legitimate Windows service—gaining full access to the filesystem—and begins scanning the internet for more vulnerable computers to copy itself onto. There is no human interaction required.
Although WannaCry was soon stopped by a 22-year-old research in the UK, who identified and triggered a kill-switch, the ransomware still managed to create global chaos. NHS doctors were locked out of patient records. Emergency rooms were forced to turn people away. A telecommunications company in Spain, a cell phone carrier in Russia, and French automaker Renault were all affected.
Out-of-date Windows computers are still vulnerable to malware that uses EternalBlue (read: check your updates). But maybe more important: That exploit was just one of many that the Shadow Brokers released in April. Experts warn there is more to come—and the next time there may not be a kill-switch.—Keith Collins
SOME THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
Trump navigates the outside world. Be fawned upon by Israeli and Gulf leaders, shake hands with the Pope, and make a show of pummeling NATO leaders about their military spending: The US president’s first foreign trip was supposed to be an easy win. But on the back of the worst week of his short tenure, things aren’t looking so easy. Max de Haldevang outlines the deals Trump will be looking for and where he risks slipping up.
A global shortage of an old drug is causing new superbugs.Penicillin was a miracle drug that ushered in modern medicine. But Big Pharma stopped making it because it stopped being profitable. Keila Guimarães tracks how a scarcity of the drug is now causing treatable diseases like syphilis to wreck havoc all over the world—and new antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop and spread rapidly.
Picturing a North Korean refugee crisis. Life inside the hermit kingdom’s borders is already harsh, and it’s not hard to imagine leader Kim Jong-un’s erratic behavior leading the country to civil warand forcing millions of people into China. Steve Mollman asks how China might cope with a humanitarian disaster of this scale.
General Electric peers into the “future of work.” The conglomerate recently appointed Lynn Calpeter, the former CFO of its power-generation and water-technologies business, to figure out exactly what that means. Sarah Kessler explains why the company has political, marketing, and practical reasons to put some resourcesbehind the buzz phrase.
In praise of selfish women. If only our culture had embraced “healthy narcissism” in the 1970s, when it briefly captured the public’s imagination. Instead, narcissism has become a dirty word. Fortunately, psychologists are rethinking the importance of this trait in driving ambition and creativity. Lila MacLellan argues that women, who are too often socialized to be “selfless,” need to hear that message.
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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Slack is reshaping the office. Molly Fischer’s New York magazine primer on Slack is an enlightening and at times eye-popping overviewof how the instant-messaging tool is changing office dynamics and employee behavior, and rapidly becoming a “utility we both rely on and resent.”
China’s road to expanding its reach. The country’s $1 trillion, 60-country “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure initiative is unprecedented, representing a starkly different worldview than Trump’s policy of isolationism. Jane Perlez and Yufan Huang of the New York Times explore what influence (paywall) those projects will bring.
A story of modern-day slavery. For 56 years, she kept the house, cooked the meals, and cared for the children, without complaint, pay, or the freedom to leave. In this heartbreaking story for The Atlantic, Pulitzer-winning journalist Alex Tizon recounts how he came to realizethat the woman who raised him was actually his family’s slave, as he returns her ashes to the Philippines to be finally laid to rest.
Saudi Arabia opens up. Music on the streets and women in the workforce: What’s driving one of the world’s most conservative countries to change? An economic crisis, waning regional influence, and a reform-minded prince, writes Susanne Koelbl from Riyadh for Der Spiegel. While this “isn’t the dawn of some new liberal era,” she says, space has opened up for activities and debates that would have been previously unimaginable.
Our love of the apocalypse. Frank Bures and the Aeon teamexamine our insatiable appetite for stories about the end of the world, and how those terrifying futures have morphed from being the result of a single problem to the outcome of multiple diffuse events. Modernization may have put us further away from some of those doomsday scenarios, but they sure do feel closer than ever.
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