Firms and governments assess cyber attack damage

Businesses and governments around the world are counting the cost of a software epidemic that has disrupted ports, hospitals and banks.

Logistics firm FedEx said deliveries by its TNT Express subsidiary had been “slowed” by the cyber attack, which had “significantly affected” its systems.

Ports operated by the Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk are still crippled.

Alabama port official James Lyons said crews at Maersk’s APM terminal in Mobile had been loading and unloading containers in manual mode, without the normal computerised co-ordination.

The company’s operations were shut in Mumbai, India, Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, among others.

In a statement, Moller-Maersk acknowledged that its APM terminals had been “impacted in a number of ports” and that an undisclosed number of systems were shut down “to contain the issue”.

Ukraine, which was hardest hit and where the attack probably originated, said it had secured critical state assets – though everyday life remained affected with cash machines out of order and airport displays operating manually.

As the impact of the cyber attack that erupted on Tuesday was still being measured at offices, loading docks and boardrooms, the Ukrainian cabinet said that “all strategic assets, including those involved in protecting state security, are working normally”.

But that still left a large number of non-strategic assets, including dozens of banks and other institutions, fighting to get back online.

Cash machines in Kiev were still out of order on Wednesday, and Ukrainian news reports said that flight information at the city’s Boryspil airport was being provided in manual mode.

A local cyber security expert discounted the Ukrainian government’s assurances.

“Obviously they don’t control the situation,” Victor Zhora of Infosafe in Kiev said.

At the very least, cybersecurity firms say thousands of computers worldwide have been struck by the malware, which goes by a variety of names, including ExPetr.

In Pennsylvania, lab and diagnostic services were closed at the satellite offices of the Heritage Valley Health System.

In Tasmania, an Australian official said a Cadbury chocolate factory had stopped production after computers there crashed.

Other organisations affected include US drug-maker Merck, food and drinks company Mondelez International, global law firm DLA Piper, and London-based advertising group WPP.

But most of the damage remains hidden away in corporate offices and industrial parks.

As IT security workers turned their eye toward cleaning up the mess, others wondered at the attackers’ motives.

The attack has the telltale signs of ransomware, which scrambles a computer’s data until a payment is made, but some experts believe this attack was less aimed at gathering money than at sending a message to Ukraine and its allies.

That hunch was supported by the way the malware appears to have been seeded using a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software – suggesting an attacker focused on Ukrainian targets.

And it comes on the anniversary of the assassination of a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer and a day before a national holiday celebrating a new constitution signed after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“The threat we’re talking about looks like it was specially developed for Ukraine because that was the place it created most of the damage,” said Bogdan Botezatu, of Romanian security firm Bitdefender, calling it a case of “national sabotage”.

Suspicions were further heightened by the re-emergence of the mysterious Shadow Brokers group of hackers, whose dramatic leak of powerful NSA tools helped power Tuesday’s outbreak, as it did a previous ransomware explosion last month that was dubbed WannaCry.

In a post published Wednesday, The Shadow Brokers made new threats, announced a new money-making scheme and made a boastful reference to the recent chaos.

The malware did not appear to make a lot of money for its creators. A bitcoin wallet used to collect ransoms showed only about 10,000 dollars (£7,700).

And some analysts going through the malware’s code said that the ransomware may not even operate as ransomware at all; victims’ data appear to be hopelessly scrambled, rather than recoverable after the payment of ransom.

Matthieu Suiche, founder of Dubai-based Comae Technologies, said the ransom demand was merely “a mega-diversion”.

In a blog post, he wrote that the code pointed not to criminals, but “in fact a nation state attack”.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab echoed the findings, saying in a statement: “Our analysis indicates there is little hope for victims to recover their data.”


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