Attack on police, army

Cyber systems of institutions targeted; attempt made on National Security Ministry

BY KARL ANGELL
Executive editor — operations
angellk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 28, 2017



Potentially threatening malware hit the computer systems of the country's main security agencies, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), during the course of last week. The Jamaica Observer has also been informed that while attempts were made to install the malware onto the computer system of the Ministry of National Security, the hackers were unable to do so mainly because of the quick and effective response of a number of Government computer experts.

Confirmation of the cyberattack came from an official of the security ministry who made it known, that based on a preliminary assessment of the situation, the threatening malware was produced in Jamaica and the attack on the country's overall security interface had its origin on the island.

“Yes, the country security entities, the JDF and the JCF, were affected by a malware threat earlier last week,” the ministry source told the Sunday Observer. “Luckily we were monitoring our systems, as is usually done, but now with much more vigilance since the recent worldwide ransomware attacks which affected over 100 countries and which crippled so many important systems. As a result of this vigilance and our usual checks, we were able to minimise the effects of our malware attack. At this point, I can fairly accurately reveal that our systems, which come with many different and varied software protection, especially firewalls, held up well. Plus, we were able to quickly take action, which assisted greatly in countering the offending malware. Further, I can say that the systems at the Ministry of National Security were not affected by this attack.”

When asked if any ransom requests were made, the source answered cautiously.

“We did think about that aspect when we became aware of the malware attack on our security systems, so we made exhaustive checks, and right now the answer to the question is no, we have not received any ransom requests, but we are still in the process of checking; so right now, the answer is no, no ransom request.”

An unprecedented global ransomware attack hit at least 100,000 organisations in 150 countries, Europe's police agency said on Sunday, May 14. The attack, that began the Friday before, is believed to be the biggest online extortion attack ever recorded, spreading chaos by locking computers that run Britain's hospital network, Germany's national railway, and scores of other companies, factories and government agencies worldwide.

“It was essentially an indiscriminate attack across the world,” Europol director Rob Wainwright said. “It's a massive reminder to sectors right across the world [that] cyber security should be a top-line strategic priority.”

Russia's Interior Ministry and Spain's Telefonica, FedEx Corporation in the United States, French carmaker Renault among other companies all reported disruptions. Chinese media reported that students at several universities were hit by the virus, which blocked access to their thesis papers and their dissertation presentations.

Following the global ransomware attack, Jamaica's Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley warned Jamaicans to secure their computer systems as attacks similar to that of ransomware WannaCry, which crippled a raft of health, financial and other systems on the weekend, “will escalate in coming weeks”.

In a news release to the media shortly after the global ransomware attacks, Dr Wheatley cautioned against taking the matter lightly.

“Ransomware is a type of malicious software that carries out an extortion attack on computer files by blocking access to data until a 'ransom' is paid. If users do not pay in time they are threatened with the deletion of their files. The ransomware is usually spread through various means, including e-mail attachments or malicious links within an e-mail,” the minister explained.

The National Security Council (NSC), in a meeting on Friday, broke the news that in 2016 Jamaica lost approximately US$100 million to cyber-criminal activity. Head of the Computer Incident Response Team Dr Moniphia Hewling revealed the datum during her presentation to the NSC while highlighting the need for public education as well as individuals and entities reporting incidents of cyber crime.

Hewling indicated that Jamaica has seen a rise in consumers, businesses and even government agencies being fleeced of hundreds of millions of dollars and emphasised that everyone is at risk. She noted that cyber security issues are not going away, which meant that the need for policies and holding people accountable to good cyber practices must be in place.

It was also announced that the chair of the NSC, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, has decided to raise this issue to the level of Cabinet to ensure that resources are allocated to increase the country's capacity to deal with these threats.

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