Companies, governments assess damage from latest malware

A screen of an idle virus affected cash machine in a state-run OshchadBank says "Sorry for inconvenience/Under repair" in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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 and airport displays operating manually.

As the impact of the cyberattack that erupted 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 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 computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday June 27, 2017. (Oleg Reshetnyak via AP)

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. Logistics firm FedEx says deliveries by its TNT Express subsidiary have been “slowed” by the cyberattack, which had “significantly affected” its systems.

At India’s largest container port, one of the terminals was idled by the malicious software. 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, 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 organizations affected include U.S. drugmaker 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. 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 experts 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 — 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.

This image provided by the Twitter page of @fendifille shows a computer at Greater Preston CCG as Britain’s National Health Service is investigating “an issue with IT” Friday May 12, 2017. (@fendifille via AP)

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 didn’t appear to make a lot of money for its creators. A bitcoin wallet used to collect ransoms showed only about $10,000. 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, the 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.”

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Bajak reported from Houston, Texas. Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, and Larry Rosenthal in Philadelphia contributed to this report.