Cyber attack paralyses Indian container port as Asia reels from ransomware

JOHANNESBURG — The so-called ‘Internet of Things’ has huge promise in terms of connecting inanimate objects – such as air conditioners and even fridges – to the web and controlling them better. But this world also brings about great risks as seen with recent cyber attacks targeting critical infrastructure. Currently, a major container port in India has been shut down owing to a cyber attack. The cost to business, in this case, will be huge and some analysts are arguing that investors need to sit up and take notice of this growing threat. – Gareth van Zyl

By Anurag Kotoky and Dhwani Pandya

(Bloomberg) — A new cyber attack similar to WannaCry reached parts of Asia after hitting businesses, port operators and government systems in Europe, U.S. and South America.

A terminal operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, a facility near Mumbai which is India’s biggest container port, was unable to load or unload because of the attack. With the Gateway Terminal India facility unable to identify which shipment belongs to whom, the port is clearing cargo manually, Chairman Anil Diggikar said in a phone interview.

A freight truck loaded with an A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S branded shipping container travels past a man using a mobile device near Nhava Sheva Port in Navi Mumbai, India on May 25, 2015. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg 

After wreaking havoc in Europe, the attackers behind the Petya virus have had a limited impact in Asia so far as they demand users pay $300 in cryptocurrency per infected computer to unlock their systems. About 2,000 users had been attacked as of midday Tuesday in North America, according to Kaspersky Lab analysts, with organisations in Russia and Ukraine the most affected.

“With there being no global kill switch for this one, we’ll continue to see the numbers rise in different parts of the world as more vulnerable systems become more exposed,” said Beau Woods, deputy director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

There are signs the virus is starting to spread in China but no large-scale outbreak has been detected, according to Zheng Wenbin, chief security engineer at Qihoo 360 Technology Co.

Read also: Building cyber resilient businesses from the inside out

After the WannaCry outbreak earlier this year, ransomware is becoming a routine risk for businesses around the world. While banks and retailers have strengthened defences against certain types of attacks, such as those targeting credit card data, many others are still catching up in building their defences.

The attack popped up in government systems in Kiev, then disabled operations at companies including Rosneft PJSC, advertiser WPP Plc and the Chernobyl nuclear facility. More than 80 companies in Russia and Ukraine were initially affected, Moscow-based cyber security company Group-IB said. The hack quickly spread from Russia and Ukraine, through Europe and into the U.S.

DLA Piper

Kremlin-controlled Rosneft, Russia’s largest crude producer, said it avoided “serious consequences” from the “hacker attack” by switching to a backup system for managing production processes.

U.K. media company WPP’s website was knocked offline, and employees were told to turn off their computers and not use Wi-Fi, according to a person familiar with the matter. Sea Containers, the London building that houses WPP and agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, has been shut down, another person said. Law firm DLA Piper took down its systems as a “precautionary measure,” meaning clients couldn’t contact its team by email or landline, according to a notice on its website.

The most vulnerable places are “where the operators are a lot of the times at the mercy of manufacturers and providers of those technologies and there’s a long time between existence of a fix and implementation of a fix,” Woods said.

Global Attack

Maersk said its customers can’t use online booking tools and its internal systems are down. Diggikar said 75 Maersk group terminals were hit by the attack.

APM Terminals, owned by Maersk, experienced system issues at multiple terminals, including the Port of New York and New Jersey, the largest port on the U.S. East Coast, and Rotterdam in The Netherlands, Europe’s largest harbour. APM Terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey will be closed for the rest of the day “due to the extent of the system impact,” the Port said.

Cie de Saint-Gobain, a French manufacturer, said its systems had also been infected, though a spokeswoman declined to elaborate. Mondelez International Inc. said it was also experiencing a global IT outage and was looking into the cause. Merck & Co. Inc., based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, reported that its computer network was compromised due to the hack.

WannaCry Warnings

The strikes follow the global ransomware assault involving WannaCry virus that affected hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries as extortionists demanded bitcoin from victims. Ransomware attacks have been soaring and the number of such incidents increased by 50 percent in 2016, according to  Verizon Communications Inc.

“While this attack directly impacts IT systems, we must consider how the ransomware threat will evolve in the near future to also impact IoT devices and connected cars,” said Mark Hearn, who is director of Internet of things security at Irdeto.

Analysts at Symantec Corp., have said the new Petya virus uses an exploit called EternalBlue to spread, much like WannaCry. EternalBlue works on vulnerabilities in Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system.

The new virus has a fake Microsoft digital signature appended to it and the attack is spreading to many countries, Costin Raiu, director of the global research and analysis team at Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, said on Twitter.

The attack has hit Ukraine particularly hard and the intrusion is “the biggest in Ukraine’s history,” Anton Gerashchenko, an aide to the Interior Ministry, wrote on Facebook. Kyivenergo, a Ukrainian utility, switched off all computers after the hack, while another power company, Ukrenergo, was also affected, the Interfax news service reported.

Cyberattack is vivid example of underpriced threat, Prasad says

By Enda Curran and Stephen Engle

(Bloomberg) — Investors aren’t sufficiently pricing in a growing threat to economic and financial market stability from geopolitical risks, and the latest global cyberattack is an example of the damage that can be wreaked on trade, Cornell University Professor Eswar Prasad said.

His remarks came as a virus similar to WannaCry reached Asia after spreading from Europe to the U.S. overnight, hitting businesses, port operators and government systems. A selloff in technology stocks extended into the Asian trading session.

Read also: Stuart McClure: Cyber superhero; using AI to head off the criminals

While the global economy appears to be improving, political tensions and rising protectionism are the biggest threats, along with cyber attacks, Prasad said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions gathering in China’s northeastern port city Dalian.

“Risk seems to be very substantially underpriced,” Prasad, a former chief of the International Monetary Fund’s China division, told Stephen Engle. “Financial markets don’t seem to be pricing in geopolitical risks. Maybe they know something we don’t but that is certainly a cause for concern.”

The latest attack left a terminal operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk at India’s biggest container port unable to load or unload, according to the nation’s shipping ministry. It’s being carried out by a virus asking users to make payments to unlock their systems.

“This is a very vivid example of negative disruption,” Prasad said. “It could have very significant effects on global trade and finance and either of those could certainly rock a world economy that is just slowly getting up on its feet.”

Protectionism Threat

The threat of protectionism hasn’t gone away either, despite global trade volumes hitting multi-year highs, said Prasad, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and author of “Gaining Currency: The Rise of the Renminbi.”

“The big concern is whether the protectionist sentiments we’ve seen coming out of the U.S. or the geopolitical uncertainty including North Korea but also the Middle East, which are constantly bubbling cauldrons, could cause any of these things to come to a head,” he said.

Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang used a speech at the Dalian event to warn of rising geopolitical risk and threats to the global upswing. Anti-globalization voices are emerging and world geopolitical risks are increasing, Li told officials and business leaders Tuesday.

Li’s speech was a robust defence of globalisation and a thinly veiled rebuttal of the narrative adopted by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has accused trading partners, including China, of unfair trading practices.

Prasad described Li’s tone as upbeat, reflecting an improving sentiment toward not just the Chinese economy, but global conditions. However, he also detected a signal from Li’s remarks that China is planning significant reforms after an annual shake-up of the Communist Party’s leadership later this year that could bring pain to the economy.

“Next year is the year to be concerned about,” Prasad said. “Some of the problems may start coming to a head.”

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