June 28, 2017

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HACKERS are having a great weekend, with the recent spate of cyber attacks. At home, concerns over internet security hit a new high when the the Ministry of Education revealed that the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University were targets in a “sophisticated” cyber attack last month.

And in the rest of the world, a major cyberattack on Friday (May 12) hit schools, companies and even hospitals in over 70 countries. The choice of weapon? A ransomware tool called “WannaCry”, that locks people out of their computers unless they pay up.

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More worryingly, experts suspect that the hacker group behind the attacks, the sinister-sounding “Shadow Brokers”, was using software stolen from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. We look at some of the countries affected, alongside other developments in the hacking world:

1. London, UK: Healthcare calls in sick

NHS Ambulance, United Kingdom. Image by Flickr user Lee Haywood.

British hospitals affected by “Wannacry” were forced to divert patients needing emergency treatment to other neighbouring hospitals. Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May said this was not a targeted attack at the National Health Service. “It’s an international attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected,” she said in response to the cyber attacks. More than 40 hospitals and health facilities reported that they had been hit by the virus on Friday.

The attack had affected X-ray imaging systems, pathology test results, phone systems and patient administration systems. Doctors warned that this attack, the biggest in The National Health Service (NHS) history, could cost lives. Important information, medical records, and patient details could be lost if hackers delete the files. On Friday, doctors and nurses were left to treat patients without access to their medical files. Some patients had their operations cancelled. However in a statement, the NHS said, “At this stage we do not have any evidence that patient data has been accessed. We will continue to work with affected organisations to confirm this.”

The scale of the attacks on NHS raised questions about the security of its systems. Cyber experts said that this was because some health care organisations were using obsolete systems, while others failed to update their software.

2. Madrid, Spain: Phone companies stay on hold

Telefonica building, Madrid, Spain, Image by Federico Jorda.

Victims of the “Wannacry” virus in Spain included Telefonica, the nation’s biggest telecommunications firm, power company Iberdrola and utility Gas Natural. Spain’s government warned organisations of a possible cyber attack on Friday. Some organisations took precautionary measures as a result.

It is not clear how many Spanish organisations were affected by the attack. Telefonica said that the attack was limited to some of its employee’s computers on an internal network and did not affect its clients or services. After the attack on Friday, Telefonica switched off all the computers in its Madrid headquarters, and staff were told to shut down their workstations.

The Spanish government said in a statement that, “The cyber attack had not affected the provision of the companies’ services or the operation of their networks and the national cybersecurity institute was working to resolve it as soon as possible.”

3. Moscow, Russia: “We’re victims too!”

Palace Square, Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia. Image by Flickr user Ninara.

When news of the cyberattacks broke, heads immediately turned to the Kremlin, which is facing allegations of using hackers to influence elections in the US and France. Russia was quick to assert that it wasn’t the criminal here, but a fellow victim.

Experts assessing the damage so far have concluded that Russia is the worst hit, followed by Ukraine and Taiwan. The Russian Interior Ministry confirmed that 1000 of its computers were hit, although its servers were unharmed.

But suspicions still abound, with pundits pointing out the possible links between the Shadow Brokers and Russia. Last year, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted out suspicions that the hacker group is backed by the Kremlin. Guess it all adds to the palace intrigue.

Edward Snowden tweets on links between the cyberattack and the Kremlin. Image from twitter.

4. Washington, DC, US: The Russian plot thickens

Former FBI Director James Comey and Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates at a briefing in 2016. Image by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Other than the PR disaster that the NSA now faces, the US has emerged relatively unscathed from the cyber attacks. International courier FedEx reported that it is “experiencing interference” due to the attacks, but did not provide any further assessment.

The Americans, meanwhile, are preoccupied with the allegations of Russian hacking into the presidential elections. While President Trump has ousted FBI director James Comey off his back for now, he faces even more pressure to find a new FBI director – will the new head continue the investigations?

And a fresh set of revelations suggest that there is precedent for Russian meddling in US elections. A new report alleges that the Russians attempted to hack the US election as far back as 2007, targeting Barack Obama’s campaign managers. Maybe the Russian hackers were there all along, just that no one noticed them?

5. Paris, France: What doesn’t kill you

Ensemble la France! Emmanuel Macron campaign poster, Paris, Image by Lorie Shuall.

Hackers prey on flaws in cyber security, but they can’t attack your psychological defences, as the French have proven. Right before the end of campaigning, hackers dumped frontrunner Mr Emmanuel Macron’s emails and financing documents online – in a eerie echo of the cyber attack on Mrs Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Once again, fingers pointed at Russia.

But unlike the US, France acted quickly the control the fallout. The election commission warned the press against republishing the information during the “quiet” period when candidates are not allowed to campaign. Some commentators think the US should emulate the French system of having a cool-off period.

And as satirist Andy Borowitz put it, the “French annoyingly retain (the) right to claim intellectual superiority over Americans.”

 

Featured image by Flickr user World’s Direction.

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DHL Scam, International logistic giant

by Suhaile Md

POOR DHL. Imagine a multinational, with €59.2 billion ($88.6 billion) revenue last year, making a name for itself as a label for a scam.

Although the scammers have impersonated other organisations like the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore Post (SingPost) and even the Singapore Police Force (SPF), DHL seems to be the most prominent. It’s become so common for scammers to impersonate DHL, that it’s now the butt of jokes, with some, like the young man below who goes by online moniker CreepaCrusher, awaiting the phone scam, just to catch calls on tape and troll the scammer at the other end.

 

 

Now it’s got even more publicity, thanks to comedian Hossan Leong. Last Saturday (July 2), in a bid to raise public awareness, the SPF posted a three-minute Facebook video of Mr Leong, where he gets scammed by someone pretending to be from DHL. And the video went viral, garnering nearly 180,000 views and over 6,300 shares in five days.

Hopefully, the viral video has helped to boost awareness of the scam: The SPF said on June 8 that at least 50 police reports have been filed and over $4 million have been lost to such scammers since this March.

The number of police reports, however, seems to belie the size of the net cast by such con artists. A spokesperson from DHL Express Singapore said its call centre receives 150 calls daily from customers in Singapore reporting the phone scam. At its peak in late-May, 200 calls were received every day. “We were alerted to the first few cases in early April,” said a DHL spokesman.

 

Here’s how the scam usually plays out:

It starts off with an automated voice, usually in Chinese. The call is then redirected to con artists who introduce themselves as representatives of banks in China, or of international courier companies like DHL, and even local companies like SingPost.

They then trick the victim into believing his or her identity was used to parcel illegal items like fake passports or credit cards, eventually leading the victim to believe that legal issues are imminent, given that his or her name is on the illegal package. In the process, the scammer is able to elicit personal details like the victim’s name, identification number, address, passport number and bank account numbers.

The final nail is hammered when the victim feels sufficiently pressured enough to remove impending “legal issues” by sending money to China.

The best defence according to the SPF is to ignore such calls.

Desist from giving out personal details and never transfer any money at the behest of the caller – even if they claim to be from the G, like some have in the past. After all, “no government agency will inform you to make a payment through a telephone call, especially to a third party’s bank account,” said the SPF. In addition, disengage from the call and speak to someone you trust before making any decision.

The spokesperson from DHL also clarified: “We do not make automated calls and will not be calling unsolicited to ask for personal information such as identification number, airway bill number, and banking or credit card details.”

 

Read more about other scams from the links below:

  1. Hello, I’m a phone scam. Is your bank account at home?
  2. How to run a sex-for-credit scam and end up in jail
  3. The greatest online scam of all time (No, it’s not sex)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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