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Hackers Exploit Weakness in Windows Computers; Trump Warns Comey, Hints at Secret Recordings; Crisis in Venezuela; U.S. May Extend Laptop Ban to Flights from Europe; Pope to Canonize Fatima Shepherd Children. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The data stored on some 75,000 computers around the world being held for ransom.

Plus, President Trump warns his ex-FBI director not to leak information to the media.

And later on in this show, Venezuela's riot police fight back against crowds of protesting grandparents. Wait until you hear what President Maduro says some protesters were throwing at police.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier live in Atlanta for CNN NEWSROOM.


VANIER: Tens of thousands of computers were showing the same error message on Friday, all because of a worldwide cyber attack. This is what it looks like. This was the screen at the U.K.'s National Health Service, demanding a ransom to unlock files. Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the security breach.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We're aware that a number of NHS organizations have reported that they have suffered from the ransomware attack. This was not targeted at the NHS. It's an international attack. A number of countries and organizations have been affected.


VANIER: Indeed, at least 99 countries have been targeted. We're learning that the hackers took advantage of a vulnerability in Windows computers. CNN's Samuel Burke explains.


SAMUEL BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's be clear from the outset, this is unlike any cyber attack we have seen before. This isn't the hacking of passwords or credit card numbers. This is ransomware, going through the Internet, looking for vulnerable computers, without people even having to click a link on a phishing email.

This ransomware takes over their computers and demands $300 in Bitcoin for people to get access to their files again. But what's most troubling about this is it isn't just affecting big companies like Telefonica and FedEx or individuals. It's also affecting hospitals.

In the U.K., multiple hospitals had to cancel outpatient appointments because their computers had been affected. Now at the root of this is a flaw in Windows, which Microsoft has been trying to correct since March. But it can only be fixed if you, the user, do that security update.

So often we get that notification in the lower right hand corner and we say I don't want to restart my computer. But this is proof that you need to do that immediately, because, if you haven't updated your Windows computer since March, you could go victim to this malware.

Now nobody is pointing fingers just yet, cyber security researchers say it's too soon to do that. But it's interesting, because Avast, which is the cyber security research firm, they have a map of the places that have been most affected. And so far, that is Taiwan, Ukraine and Russia.

So we can't be quick to say it's the Chinese or the Russians, because, right now, Russia is one of the biggest victims of this malware. Now it's interesting, because this could be happening because, just last month, a group published code that they say was NSA spy tools, include this code that went after this vulnerability in Windows.

And with that, the former contractor of the NSA, Edward Snowden, tweeted the following, "If the NSA had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they found it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened." -- Samuel Burke, CNN, New York.



VANIER: Now Hemu Nigam is the founder of SSB Blue. He is an Internet security analyst.

Hemu, I've got lots of questions for you.

The first one, what does the scale of the attack tell us about who may have carried out this hacking attack?

HEMU NIGAM, SSB BLUE: It's massive. I think already by the last reports, 99 countries have organizations or companies or people that have been hit.


NIGAM: That's half the world actually, half the U.N. population.

VANIER: And what does that tell us about who may have done this?

NIGAM: What's interesting is this actually started as a result of the NSA identifying a leak or a hole in Windows systems made by Microsoft and they created an exploit.

Well, Shadow Brokers, this hacking group out of Russia, stole the NSA's exploit and then released it to the hacking community. And now different hackers are using it to add a piece that wasn't there in the original, which is, first, it breaks into the system.

It says OK, do you have a hole?

Did you not patch it?

And then it goes and drops a piece of ransomware and then says, OK, now you want to unlock it, unlock your system?

Then pay us money. So we don't know who the hackers are. And I think that's on purpose because if they reveal who they are, more people will want to hunt them down and try to arrest them. It's easier for them to quietly --


NIGAM: -- go PC by PC, system by system, just asking for ransomware and then giving your system back.

VANIER: But a group good enough to do this and organized enough to do this, would they have to be backed by a government or not necessarily?

NIGAM: Not necessarily. But I will say that organized crime should be paying attention. And I'm sure they are. If they're already not part of this, they're going to see this as a huge moneymaking opportunity. And I also think there's a bunch of different groups, all capitalizing on the same exploit.

VANIER: Doesn't this kind of mass attack leave a trail of bread crumbs big enough that we are sure to find them at some stage?

Doesn't it leave the hackers vulnerable?

NIGAM: Well, hackers are pretty good about jumping from place to place. They may say my last jumping point is China, when in fact they're sitting in the United States. So that's why it's hard to track it down. And they're using Bitcoin to transfer money, which also is hard to track to the source.

I mean, I will tell you, this particular one is -- I mean, you couldn't -- I'm in Hollywood right now. You couldn't make a better Hollywood movie because the NSA creates something; it gets stolen by hackers, who add their own piece to it, and what they do is it goes into a system and it looks for other vulnerable systems.

So it gets into one computer and then it does what I call hunt and break. It's looking for others in the network. And then it just keeps spreading until it's done. VANIER: Look, I still find it stunning, given how much resources Western countries have at their disposal, that they can't, A, protect from this and, B, find the culprits, at least find them faster.

My final question to our viewers, what do they need to know in order to be safe?

NIGAM: Well, I'll tell you, the simple, simple, simple answer is when Microsoft releases an update to your system, do not hit "remind me later." It's the worst thing you can do. Update your system. And in this particular case --

VANIER: I do that sometimes.

NIGAM: -- there we go. We all do it but we never always admit it. So if you're an I.T. person, this is truly a failure of the I.T. community not updating when they're supposed to be because these updates were actually released three months, two or three months ago by Microsoft.

VANIER: All right. You've been warned. Hemu Nigam, thank you very much for joining us on the show.

NIGAM: Thank you, Cyril.


VANIER: Three days after Donald Trump fired his FBI director, it's still not clear why he did it. Instead of settling the matter, the U.S. president tweeted what appears to be a threat, warning James Comey against going public. Here's the latest from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump adding new fuel to the fire in his escalating fight with the FBI, making a veiled threat on Twitter to James Comey.

The president saying the fired FBI director better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.

Stunning words from the commander in chief, directed at the nation's former top law enforcement official, the man who was leading an investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives before being fired Tuesday.

The president refused to answer the question he raised himself, in an interview with FOX News.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the idea that in a tweet you said that there might be tape recordings?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, that I can't talk about. I won't talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest and I hope he will be and I'm sure he will be, I hope. ZELENY (voice-over): White House press secretary Sean Spicer also refused to answer whether there's a recording system in the Oval Office or whether the president is taping his conversations there or elsewhere.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I've talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that.

ZELENY (voice-over): When asked again and again, press secretary Sean Spicer ended the daily White House briefing with the question whether any tapes exist still hanging in the air. Spicer disputed the suggestion the president's warning to Comey was a threat.

SPICER: That's not a threat. He simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.

ZELENY (voice-over): But it's unclear whether the president is moving on. He aimed another missive at Comey today after making his feelings clear in an NBC interview Thursday.

TRUMP: Look, he's a showboat. He's a grandstander.

ZELENY (voice-over): At issue is a dinner the president invited Comey to seven days after taking office. It was there, CNN has learned, that the president asked the FBI director about loyalty.

TRUMP: We had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me, "You are not under investigation."

ZELENY (voice-over): The president's obsession with the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is what led to Comey's firing. The credibility of the president and his advisers is in question, as the White House becomes increasingly consumed by chaos and a crisis of leadership.

The president is isolated and agitated, associates tell CNN. He finished a full week barely seen at the White House before making this brief afternoon appearance with the first lady.

TRUMP: Hi, everyone, a friendly, beautiful group.

ZELENY (voice-over): But his views have been heard in a roaring Twitter storm. He acknowledged conflicting explanations in the timeline of Comey's firing, offering no apology but bluntly conceding, accuracy seems optional.

"As a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at the podium with perfect accuracy."

He went on to say, "Maybe the best thing --


ZELENY (voice-over): -- "to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy." SPICER: Wow. We've got a full house today.

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House press secretary was back at the podium, under siege, after a perilous week for the administration.

SPICER: Time and time again, an attempt to parse every little word and make it more of a game of gotcha.

ZELENY (voice-over): Look to point blame elsewhere, the president is frustrated by his communications team, telling FOX News he might take matters into his own hands.

TRUMP: Sean Spicer, he is a wonderful human being. He's a nice man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow?

TRUMP: Yes --



TRUMP: Yes, he's -- well, he's doing a good job but he gets beat up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will he be there tomorrow?

TRUMP: Yes. Well, he's been there from the beginning.

ZELENY (voice-over): For now, Spicer remains in place, apparently just in time to be lampooned again on "Saturday Night Live." Melissa McCarthy, Spicer's impersonator, spotted today in midtown Manhattan, filming this week's episode.

ZELENY: So as this incredibly chaotic week comes to an end, still many questions hanging over this White House, one, of course, of credibility; two, who will the next FBI director be?

And, three, does the president actually have a recording device either in the Oval Office or elsewhere, recording these conversations?

The White House of course would not talk about that but, going forward here, this whole issue of firing James Comey has stymied their legislative agenda. He'll be traveling abroad next week, his first foreign trip of his presidency. They're hoping that helps get the president back on track -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.



VANIER: And for a lot more on this, Julian Zelizer joins us now, he's a CNN political historian and CNN analyst.

Julian, first of all, let me read this tweet by Donald Trump.

"James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

Also, Julian, I want you to listen to this, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, earlier on Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI director Comey?

SPICER: I assume you're referring to the tweet. And I've talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why did he say that?

Why did he tweet that?

What should we interpret from that?

SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?

SPICER: That's it. For the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he think it's appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?

SPICER: I don't think that's -- that's not a threat. He's simply stated a fact. The tweet speaks for itself. I'm moving on.


VANIER: All right.


VANIER: Sean Spicer is moving on. Let us spend a little bit of time on this.

Do you see the tweet as a threat?

And, if so, what business does the President of the United States have threatening the former director of the FBI?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think that sat well with many politicians, voters and observers, because it is a threat and it's a threat against someone he just fired in the middle of this major investigation.

So it's hard to read that and not to see that he's telling this former FBI director, now you need to be quiet. And he's suggesting he taped the conversations, on top of the threat, that somehow will undercut whatever James Comey might say. So most people see this as a threat and I think only the White House

might be spinning it another way.

VANIER: But if it turns out that Donald Trump did indeed somehow tape a conversation with James Comey, wouldn't he, at some point, couldn't he be obliged to produce the audiotape of this conversation?

ZELIZER: Yes. Well, this has echoes of Watergate, morning for a long time, from FDR to Richard Nixon, the presidents taped their conversations. They taped phone conversations, Oval Office conversations, and this was famously discovered in the middle of Watergate, where, ultimately, Congress and courts were able to get the tapes, so we could hear what was going on.

So by tweeting this, he might have just opened the door for even more pressure from Congress and potentially a prosecutor to see what material actually exists in the White House.

VANIER: As a historian, are there any lessons that we can learn from past fraught relations between presidents and FBI directors?

ZELIZER: Sure. Most of them are fraught but, in general, presidents have learned to tolerate the tensions that they have with FBI directors. And rarely do they take any action against them that is so explicit and direct.

Usually if you want to undercut an FBI director -- LBJ tried to slow J. Edgar Hoover down all the time -- you do it subtly and behind the scenes. Once you fire the FBI director, like we just saw, you are in an open confrontation, not just with the fired director but with the FBI, with the agency itself.

And that could be very dangerous for a president.


VANIER: And back to the present day, it's one thing for Donald Trump to fire the FBI director. I mean, that's pretty remarkable in and of itself. It's rare. But he is within his right to do that. What's surprising is the very chaotic way in which this has been done.

Why does this White House continue to shoot itself in the foot like this?

ZELIZER: Well, look, this is a president, a White House that thrives on chaos as well. This has been the method of the campaign and the method of the presidency: say what you want, do what you want. And that is the governing style of President Trump. And so sometimes that goes in a very bad direction.

And I think this is one case that you're seeing that. This also looks, at least to many observers, like an effort to subvert this investigation that's taking place.

So it's not simply the style that we need to talk about but we now have the question of, was the president trying to stop an investigation into his own campaign and into his own White House?

VANIER: All right. And that question remains open. Julian Zelizer, thank you very much for joining us on the show.

ZELIZER: Thank you.


VANIER: And we're going to take a very short break. When we come back, it's already in place at some African and Middle Eastern airports but now the U.S. appears set to expand its laptop ban. What region could be affected -- next.



VANIER: As we've been reporting here on CNN, anti-government protests have become a near daily occurrence in Venezuela. But usually you see the younger generations out on the streets. Well, on Friday the Grandparents' March was a very different crowd. As Rafael Romo reports, thousands of elderly protesters clashed with riot police in the capital, Caracas.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: For more than a month and a half now we have seen mainly young people staging protests against the socialist government in Venezuela. So far the violent clashes have left more than 40 people dead.

More recently, there were marches staged by students, women and even one featuring artists. This Friday, the elderly took to the streets and their march was not necessarily quiet.

ROMO (voice-over): There were moments of violence when the Venezuela National Guard blocked the March of the Abuelitos, the Grandparents. Some demonstrators, elderly and otherwise, pushed against the plastic shields of members of the National Guard, who, at times, responded with bursts of pepper spray.

Some of the elderly participating were overcome by tear gas fired by the guards. Others had to be assisted to stay on their feet when chaos ensued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The elderly, the youth, everybody is asking, the children are asking that the president leave the presidential palace so that we can form a new government that respects the rights of all people.

ROMO: President Maduro did not specifically address the marchers but he said the country's members of the security forces --


ROMO: -- are enduring abuse from the marchers. NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): The National Bolivarian Guard and police have gone beyond the call of duty. The people of Venezuela support its National Bolivarian Guard and police. They have tossed feces at them, feces that they have taken out of their brains.

ROMO (voice-over): The president is not exaggerating. Some protesters have used fecal matter as projectiles tossed at security forces.

ROMO: In other news, Venezuelan health minister, Antonieta Caporale, was fired Thursday, days after the government's first release of health data in two years, showing soaring infant and maternal mortality rates. She had only been on the job since January -- Rafael Romo, CNN.


VANIER: The potential for more U.S. flight restrictions has airlines scrambling. The Trump administration appears set to expand its laptop cabin ban to flights coming from Europe. However, officials there say that that might pose a safety risk. Our Richard Quest explains.


RICHARD QUEST, CNNMONEY EDITOR AT LARGE: Talk to any European aviation official or airline and the word is not "if" but "when" the U.S. introduces its electronics ban. Everyone is expecting it -- and probably sooner rather than later.

So the past few days have been filled with urgent phone calls between Europe and the United States, with the European Commission sending a letter, urging the Americans for consultation and not to act unilaterally.

In recent days, airline chief executives have also been polishing the plans for how they will deal with having to remove laptops from people's luggage and put them in the hold of the aircraft.

At the same time, they're aware that European safety regulators are very concerned at the large number of lithium batteries that would be held together in the hold, creating a potential fire risk.

At the end of the day, no one has any easy answers. The United States, according to some, is hell-bent on introducing this ban. And it's just a question of when they make the announcement.

So Europe is ready. They're putting in place plans. But nobody is under any illusion it will be difficult and, to some over here, it makes little sense -- Richard Quest, CNN, Dublin.


VANIER: And still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, Pope Francis prays for peace at one of the world's most visited shrines. We'll be telling you why the world is watching Fatima. (MUSIC PLAYING)



VANIER: Hundreds of thousands of worshippers are expected at a special mass in Portugal in just a few hours. Pope Francis will confer sainthood on two of the three shepherd children of Fatima. The third is on track to beatification, the first step toward sainthood.

Exactly 100 years ago, they told the world the Virgin Mary had appeared to them. Two of the children died before their teens. The third, however, lived into her 90s. Pope Francis arrived at one of Catholicism's most famous sanctuaries on Friday, where he prayed for an end to wars.



VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "MAINSAIL" is up -- not quite. I'm back with the headlines in just a moment; "MAINSAIL" just after that. Stay with us.