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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 and demands an untraceable ransom be paid in the digital Bitcoin currency.
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.
In a statement, the US National Security Council said government agencies were investigating the attack and that the US was “determined to hold those responsible accountable”.
The US Department of Homeland Security advised victims not to pay the ransom, saying there was no guarantee that access to files would be restored.
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.
“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 the BBC 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 just over 3.5 bitcoins (£6,775; $8,670).
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 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 port in Mumbai is among those that has halted 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. A Cadbury factory in Tasmania, Australia is affected
- Netherlands-based shipping company TNT, which said some of its systems needed “remediation”
- French construction materials company St Gobain
- US pharmaceuticals-maker Merck
- 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.
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 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.”
Business confidence has jumped to an 18-month high, but companies are having trouble recruiting skilled workers, according to a survey.
The Lloyds Bank Business in Britain report’s confidence index rose to 24% – double the level immediately following the EU referendum last year.
The index is a measure of expected sales, orders and profits.
A separate survey by the British Chambers of Commerce forecast weak economic growth for the next few years.
The Lloyds Bank report surveyed the views of 1,500 UK companies in May, after the general election was called.
The average for the confidence index in the 25 years the report has been compiled is 23%.
The net balance of companies that said they had found it difficult to find skilled labour in the past six months hit a 10-year high of 52%.
That was up from 31% in January when the last report was released.
The share of firms facing similar issues with unskilled workers also rose to 26%, up from 14%.
Tim Hinton of Lloyds Banking Group said: “Although challenges remain in recruiting both skilled and unskilled labour, businesses are anticipating higher sales, increased profits and staffing levels to rise.
“However, the outlook remains mixed at best.”
According to the survey, four out of six business sectors reported higher levels of confidence since January.
That was attributed mainly to increased demand from UK customers, which Lloyds said suggested was due to factors other than the help that weaker sterling had given to exporters.
Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Although the pound’s value is seen as nearer ‘fair value’, currency volatility remains a big concern for some UK businesses that trade internationally.”
Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says that economic growth will remain anaemic over the next few years.
The business group, which represents thousands of small and medium-sized companies, says annual GDP growth will not exceed 1.5% by 2020 and inflation could end up being higher than expected.
The BCC expects inflation to average 2.9% this year and peak at 3.4% in the last three months of 2017, which it says will hit consumer spending.
The group raised its forecast for economic growth from 1.4% to 1.5% for this year, but expected GDP to increase by just 1.3% next year.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the BCC, said: “Over recent months, many of the businesses I speak to have expressed cautious optimism for their own prospects, but remain wary about the growth prospects of the UK economy as a whole.
“In the wake of an inconclusive general election, that wariness is set to increase.”
The group has urged the government to spend more on infrastructure, particularly broadband and mobile phone connectivity, while it has described the UK’s road network as sclerotic.
In May the Office for National Statistics said the economy expanded by 0.2% in the first three months of the year, down from its first estimate of 0.3%, as the key services sector lost momentum.
Parliament has been hit by a cyber attack, officials at Westminster say.
The “sustained” hack began on Friday night, prompting officials to disable remote access to the emails of MPs, peers and their staff as a safeguard.
The parliamentary authorities said hackers had mounted a “determined attack” on all user accounts “in an attempt to identify weak passwords”.
Government sources say it appeared the attack has been contained but it will “remain vigilant”.
A parliamentary spokeswoman said they were investigating the attack and liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre.
She said: “We have discovered unauthorised attempts to access accounts of parliamentary networks users…
“Parliament has robust measures in place to protect all of our accounts and systems, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect and secure our network.
“As a precaution we have temporarily restricted remote access to the network.”
‘Not a surprise’
IT services on the parliamentary estate are working normally and a message sent to MPs urges them to be “extra vigilant”.
But a number of MPs have confirmed to the BBC they are not able to access their parliamentary email accounts outside of the Westminster estate.
It comes just over a month after 48 of England’s NHS trusts were hit by a cyber-attack.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said: “We have seen reports in the last few days of even Cabinet ministers’ passwords being for sale online.
“We know that our public services are attacked so it is not at all surprising that there should be an attempt to hack into parliamentary emails.
“And it’s a warning to everybody, whether they are in Parliament or elsewhere, that they need to do everything possible to maintain their own cyber security.”
The latest attack was publicly revealed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard on Twitter as he asked his followers to send any “urgent messages” to him by text.
Henry Smith, Tory MP for Crawley, later tweeted: “Sorry no parliamentary email access today – we’re under cyber attack from Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin or a kid in his mom’s basement or something…”
The government’s National Security Strategy said in 2015 that the threat from cyber-attacks from both organised crime and foreign intelligence agencies was one of the “most significant risks to UK interests”.
The National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of intelligence agency GCHQ, started its operations in October last year.
The National Crime Agency said it was working with the NCSC but the centre was “leading the operational response”.
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