PARIS (AP) — Companies and governments around the world on Wednesday counted the cost of a software epidemic that has disrupted ports, hospitals, and banks. Ukraine, which was hardest hit and where the attack likely originated, said it had secured critical state assets — though everyday life remained affected, with cash machines out of order.
As the cyberattack’s intensity around the world waned on its second day, 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 seen by an Associated Press photographer were still out of order Wednesday, and Ukrainian news reports said that flight information at the city’s Boryspil airport was being provided in manual mode.
A local cybersecurity expert discounted the Ukrainian government’s assurances.
“Obviously they don’t control the situation,” Victor Zhora of Infosafe in Kiev told the AP.
Others outside Ukraine were struggling, too. At India’s largest container port, one of the terminals was idled by the malicious software, which goes by a variety of names including ExPetr. M.K. Sirkar, a manager at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust in Mumbai, said that no containers could be loaded or unloaded Wednesday at the terminal operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk, the Denmark-based shipping giant.
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.” The company declined to provide further detail or make an official available for an interview.
At the very least, thousands of computers worldwide have been struck by the malware, according to preliminary accounts published by cybersecurity firms, although most of the damage remains hidden away in corporate offices and industrial parks. Some names have trickled into the public domain as the disruption becomes obvious.
In Pennsylvania, lab and diagnostic services were closed at the satellite offices of the Heritage Valley Health System, for example. In Tasmania, an Australian official said a Cadbury chocolate factory had stopped production after computers there crashed.
Other organizations affected include U.S. drugmaker Merck, food and drinks company Mondelez International, global law firm DLA Piper, and London-based advertising group WPP.
As IT security workers turned their eye toward cleaning up the mess, others wondered at the attackers’ motives. Ransomware — which scrambles a computer’s data until a payment is made — has grown explosively over the past couple of years, powered in part by the growing popularity of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. But some believed that this latest ransomware outbreak was less aimed at gathering money than at sending a message to Ukraine and its allies.
That hunch was buttressed by the way the malware appears to have been seeded using a rogue update to a piece of Ukrainian accounting software. The timing could also be a clue, coming the same day as the assassination of a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer in the nation’s capital 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.
“Another global cyber attack is fitting end for first month of theshadowbrokers dump service,” the group said, referring to a subscription service which purportedly offers hackers early access to even more of the NSA’s digital break-in tools.
“There is much theshadowbrokers can be saying about this but what is point and having not already being said”
Few take Shadow Brokers’ threats or their ostentatious demands for cash at face value, but the timing of their re-emergence dropped another hint at the spy games possibly playing out behind the scenes.
Bajak reported from Houston, Texas. Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania and Larry Rosenthal in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
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