NZ battens down the hatches as global ransomware attack spreads

NZ battens down the hatches as global ransomware attack spreads

“Biggest ransomware outbreak in history” hits 99 countries across four continents.

New Zealand is bracing itself for a potentially huge cyber attack following a spate of breaches across the world, as the government battens down the hatches in preparation for the “biggest ransomware outbreak in history”.

Following a weekend of chaos across the globe, more than 75,000 attacks have been reported across 99 countries, with the UK National Health Service (NHS) crippled, the Russian government infected and the Spanish telecommunications sector at a standstill.

With Europe bearing the brunt of the attack, German railways also screeched to a halt, while US-based courier FedEx Corp suffered interference as the ransomware also spread to Asia and South America.

Known as WannaCry and variants of that name, the malicious software locked computers in thousands of locations worldwide, demanding US$300 ransom per machine to be paid in cryptocurrency Bitcoin to unlock devices.

“New Zealand cyber security authorities are aware a significant international ransomware campaign - WannaCry,” the Government Communications Security Bureau said via a spokesperson on 13 May.

At this stage, no organisations locally have reported any incidents relating to the breach, with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) currently working with the newly established CERT NZ to help combat any potential future attacks.

“The NCSC is taking steps to help increase the resilience of New Zealand’s nationally significant systems,” a spokesperson said. “These steps include technical measures and provision of mitigation advice.

“The NCSC is aware that the ransomware exploits a known vulnerability in Windows operating systems and has previously provided advice to it’s customers on addressing this vulnerability

Ransom demand screen displayed by WannaCry Trojan (Image - Symantec Security Response)
Ransom demand screen displayed by WannaCry Trojan (Image - Symantec Security Response)

“We are also working with CERT NZ to provide information on how individuals, small businesses and operators of larger systems can reduce their vulnerability to ransomware attacks.”

What is WannaCry?

The hackers are believed to have used a stolen tool developed by the US National Security Agency, which was released to the world by a group known as the Shadow Brokers in April.

“The attack vector has all the hallmarks of a traditional computer worm,” CrowdStrike vice president of intelligence Adam Meyers told Reseller News.

“We’ve not seen a large-scale ransomware campaign that uses self-propagating technique at this scale before, which makes it really unique.”

Meyers said targeting was likely in bulk, via massive phishing campaigns delivering .zip archives with themes such as fake invoices, job offers, security warnings, undelivered email.

“Once an infection takes place, Wana encrypts victim files using the AES-128 cipher, and demands a Bitcoin ransom of increasing value as time passes,” Meyers explained.

“Files encrypted by Wana are appended with a file extension of .wncry. Observed ransom demands require victims to pay either US$300 or US$600 worth of Bitcoin for a decryption key.”

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