Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Biodun Iginla, BBC News

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

BREAKING: Global ransomware attack causes turmoil

  • June 28, 2017  00H:07  GMT/UTC/ZULU TIME
  •  
  • From the sectionTechnology

ScreenshotImage copyrightSCREENSHOT
Image captionMany reports suggest that screens around the world are getting this message, indicating a ransomware attack is to blame.

by Tamara Kachelmeier and Biodun Iginla, BBC News Technology reporters, New York/Ventimiglia (Italy)
Companies across the globe are reporting that they have been struck by a major ransomware cyber-attack.
British advertising agency WPP is among those to say its IT systems have been disrupted as a consequence.
The virus, the source of which is not yet known, freezes the user's computer until a ransom in untraceable Bitcoin is paid.
Ukrainian firms, including the state power company and Kiev's main airport, were among the first to report issues.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has also had to monitor radiation levels manually after its Windows-based sensors were shut down.
The Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab said its analysis showed that there had been about 2,000 attacks - most in Ukraine, Russia and Poland.
The international police organisation Interpol has said it was "closely monitoring" the situation and liaising with its member countries.
Experts suggest the malware is taking advantage of the same weaknesses used by the Wannacry attack last month.
"It initially appeared to be a variant of a piece of ransomware that emerged last year," said computer scientist Prof Alan Woodward.


Media captionWhat is ransomware?

"The ransomware was called Petya and the updated version Petrwrap.
"However, now that's not so clear."
Kaspersky Lab reported that it believed the malware was a "new ransomware that has not been seen before" despite its resemblance to Petya.
As a result, the firm has dubbed it NotPetya. Kaspersky added that it had detected suspected attacks in Poland, Italy, Germany, France and the US in addition to the UK, Russia and Ukraine.
Andrei Barysevich, a spokesman for security firm Recorded Future, told us at the BBC that such attacks would not stop because cyber-thieves found them too lucrative.
"A South Korean hosting firm just paid $1m to get their data back and that's a huge incentive," he said. "It's the biggest incentive you could offer to a cyber-criminal."
A bitcoin wallet associated with the outbreak has received several payments since the outbreak began. The wallet currently holds almost 3.3 bitcoins (£6,175; $7,920).
An email address associated with the blackmail attempt has been blocked by German independent email provider Posteo.
It means that the blackmailers have not been able to access the mailbox.
Problems have also affected:
  • the Ukrainian central bank, the aircraft manufacturer Antonov, and two postal services
  • Russia's biggest oil producer, Rosneft
  • Danish shipping company Maersk, including its container shipping, oil, gas and drilling operations
  • a Pennsylvania hospital operator, Heritage Valley Health System, which reported its computer network was down, causing operations to be delayed - but it is not yet clear if it was subject to the same type of attack
  • Spanish food giant Mondelez - whose brands include Oreo and Toblerone - according to the country's media
  • Netherlands-based shipping company TNT, which said some of its systems needed "remediation"
  • French construction materials company St Gobain
  • US pharmaceuticals-maker Merck and the local offices of the law firm DLA Piper - a sign in the firm's Washington DC office said: "Please remove all laptops from docking stations and keep turned off - no exceptions."
The attacks come two months after another global ransomware assault, known as Wannacry, which caused major problems for the UK's National Health Service.
Veteran security expert Chris Wysopal from Veracode said the malware seemed to be spreading via some of the same Windows code loopholes exploited by Wannacry. Many firms did not patch those holes because Wannacry was tackled so quickly, he added.

NCA tweet reads: Image copyrightTWITTER/@NCA_UK
Image captionThe UK's National Crime Agency is investigating the threat

Those being caught out were also industrial firms that often struggled to apply software patches quickly.
"These organisations typically have a challenge patching all of their machines because so many systems cannot have down time," he said. "Airports also have this challenge."
Copies of the virus have been submitted to online testing systems that check if security software, particularly anti-virus systems, were able to spot and stop it.
"Only two vendors were able to detect it so many systems are defenceless if they are unpatched and relying on anti-virus," he said.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister tweets a photo appearing to show government systems being affected, with the caption Image copyrightTWITTER/@ROZENKOPAVLO

Ukraine seems to have been particularly badly hit this time round.
Reports suggest that the Kiev metro system has stopped accepting payment cards while several chains of petrol stations have suspended operations.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister has tweeted a picture appearing to show government systems have been affected.
His caption reads: "Ta-daaa! Network is down at the Cabinet of Minister's secretariat."

Have you been affected by this ransomware attack? Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.
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Monday, June 26, 2017

Syria’s Armenians are fleeing to their ancestral homeland--analysis

Reverse diaspora
by Nasra Ismail and Biodun Iginla, News Analysts, The Economist Intelligence Unit, YEREVAN


The war may bring an end to a Christian minority’s century-long story
WHEN war broke out in Syria in 2011, some of the wealthier families from the country’s Christian Armenian minority decamped to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where they rented luxury flats on the city’s Northern Avenue. It felt, some would later say, as though they were on holiday. The government allotted them space in a local school, where Syrian teachers who had fled as refugees continued to instruct their children using the Syrian curriculum. It took some time for it to dawn on them that they might never go home.
Syria’s six-year-old civil war has forced more than 5m of its citizens to seek refuge outside their country. In 2015-16 hundreds of thousands trekked through the Balkans, seeking safety in Europe. But hardly any of Syria’s Armenian minority took this route. Instead, many went to Armenia. With its own population shrunken by emigration (falling from 3.6m in 1991 to 3m today), Armenia was happy to welcome as many Syrian Armenians—most of them educated, middle class and entrepreneurial—as would come.

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Before the war some 90,000 ethnic Armenians lived in Syria, two-thirds of them in Aleppo. Many were descended from ancestors who had fled their homeland in 1915, escaping systematic Ottoman massacres and ethnic cleansing. For most of them, the civil war has put an end to a century-long story. Hrair Aguilan, a 61-year-old businessman, invested his life savings in a furniture factory in Aleppo just before the war, only to see it destroyed. Now he is in Yerevan to stay. “It lasted a hundred years. It is finished,” says Mr Aguilan. “There is no future for Christians in the Middle East.”
No more than 30,000 Syrian Armenians are believed to remain in Syria. Many dispersed to Lebanon, Canada, Turkey, the Persian Gulf states and elsewhere. The rest, up to 30,000, went to what they regard as the motherland. (Some have since moved on to other countries.) The wealthy, who found it easy to move, came first. Others tried to wait out the war in Syria, fleeing only once their means were exhausted. They arrived in Armenia with nothing.
Vartan Oskanian, a former foreign minister of Armenia who was born in Aleppo, says many of the refugees have started small businesses. In Syria, members of the Armenian minority tended to be skilled professionals or artisans; they were known as jewellers, doctors, engineers and industrialists. Native Armenians are delighted by the restaurants opened by the newcomers, who have brought their much spicier cuisine to a country where food (and almost everything else) has long been influenced by the bland flavours of Russia.
Almost all of the refugees have ended up in Yerevan, apart from some 30 families from a farming area, who were resettled in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-held territory that is disputed with Azerbaijan. Some young men who had fought in the Syrian army have volunteered to serve on the front lines of that conflict, but many more young Syrian Armenians hold off on asking for Armenian citizenship so that they do not have to do military service.
Vasken Yacoubian, who once ran a construction company in Damascus, now heads the Armenian branch of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), a global charity. He says refugees are still arriving from Syria, if no longer in large numbers. A few have even gone back, especially those with property (if only to try to sell it). Some Syrian Armenians argue that they have a duty to return: their diaspora forms an important branch of Armenian civilisation, and must be preserved.
Yet Mr Oskanian says those who have returned to Syria see little future for the community there. In Syria, Armenians have staunchly backed the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has protected them from persecution by Muslim extremists. But that government controls only a portion of Syria’s territory, and Mr Assad’s fate in any peace deal is uncertain. Meanwhile officials at Armenia’s Ministry of the Diaspora, which was caught unprepared by the influx of Syrians, are taking no chances. They are making contingency plans in case a new conflict erupts in Lebanon, sending thousands of Lebanese Armenians their way.
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