Modern warfare: How cyber attacks are companies across the world’s biggest threat

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Less than 2 weeks ago, 1 of the biggest sorting facilities of message successful Northern Ireland was attacked.

he onslaught was sinister, apt calculated and its timing raised suspicions. The attackers demanded a ransom and rendered operations wholly inactive causing wide disruption and chaos.

The attacker? Well, they weren’t equipped with guns oregon explosives — successful fact, they apt ne'er near their bedroom.

With a fewer clicks and immoderate dense work malware astatine their disposal, the reportedly Russian-linked transgression pack LockBit managed to render a Royal Mail sorting bureau softly tucked distant connected a roadworthy successful Mallusk arsenic non-functional.

“The full cognition has been wiped retired by a cyber attack,” a root told the Belfast Telegraph past Tuesday, providing a photograph of an orangish portion of insubstantial which had spurted retired of the facility’s printers.

“LockBit Black Ransomware. Your information are stolen and encrypted” it work successful what appeared to beryllium somewhat breached English. “The information volition beryllium published connected TOR website” it continued, followed by a agelong URL consisting of random letters and numbers.

Shortly aft the Belfast Telegraph published reports the Mallusk depot had been compromised, nationalist outlets similar The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph began reporting Royal Mail had been taxable to a computerised attack.

It appeared 1 of the world’s astir celebrated transportation services had been taxable to a cyber attack, the present go-to enactment of transgression enactment which tin beryllium carried retired astatine the click of a fewer buttons.

While the nonstop way of Royal Mail’s ordeal is presently unknown, the astir communal method utilized by cyber criminals is phishing, often successful the signifier of an email sent to an worker containing a link.

Once the nexus is opened, it allows the sender to summation entree to the employee’s machine device, which apt has institution bundle connected it.

Once clicked, you fundamentally person handed implicit your full device’s operating strategy to a hacker and erstwhile they enter, it tin beryllium highly hard to get them out.

Frequently, hackers volition encrypt the files stored connected the device, rendering them inaccessible. This is done by changing the integer creation of the files (or the full device) meaning definite codes oregon passwords are needed to merchandise the files oregon reconstruct them backmost to their erstwhile state.

The ransom constituent is erstwhile hackers volition past connection the accidental to unlock the files for a lump sum of money, usually paid via cryptocurrency (an untraceable signifier of outgo meaning the criminals down the enactment cannot beryllium recovered via their integer footprint.)

If the outgo is not sent, gangs volition endanger to administer the information they person stolen — often to the highest bidder. Royal Mail’s main manager has since denied idiosyncratic information (including addresses) was compromised successful the astir caller attack, but the cognition that information whitethorn person been stolen is often utilized successful negotiations.

It’s often the lawsuit with compromised companies — the fearfulness hundreds of thousands of people’s idiosyncratic and backstage accusation has been stolen is worthy much than impervious it’s really been taken.

It whitethorn look unusual for an attacker specified arsenic LockBit to permission a calling paper identifying themselves oregon adjacent stranger, a nexus which efficaciously brought users (and authorities) to the database of the purported information they had stolen. But gangs similar LockBit — who initially denied engagement arsenic Royal Mail is reportedly not listed connected their database of ‘targets’ earlier a ‘spokesperson’ efficaciously revealed they were progressive — don’t attraction astir leaving a trace.


One of the letters printed astatine  the Royal Mail tract  (Photo by Belfast Telegraph)

One of the letters printed astatine the Royal Mail tract (Photo by Belfast Telegraph)

One of the letters printed astatine the Royal Mail tract (Photo by Belfast Telegraph)

It’s besides not the archetypal clip LockBit person acted successful this way. Last twelvemonth the transgression gang, who besides rent retired their malware to their affiliates to transportation retired attacks and instrumentality a generous 20% committee of immoderate fiscal reward, carried retired attacks connected the Port of Lisbon, the Toronto-based Hospital for Sick Children (despite erstwhile insistence they don’t onslaught healthcare institutions) and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

These notable attacks present articulation a scope of others, including past twelvemonth erstwhile the National Health Service was compromised. Hackers targeted the institution Advanced whom the NHS utilized to run services specified arsenic out-of-hours assignment bookings and exigency prescriptions.

This caused wide outages crossed the wellness service, but the NHS maintained nary grounds diligent accusation oregon confidentiality had been compromised.

As the integer gyration came, truthful did integer crime, and present cyber attacks are thing companies crossed the world, nary substance their size, present fearfulness particularly if you clasp the astir prized possession of each — data.


Professor Marie O'Neill

Professor Marie O'Neill

Professor Marie O'Neill

“It’s each astir making money,” said Professor Marie O’Neill, the manager of The Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (CSIT) astatine Queen’s University and renowned planetary adept successful cyber security.

“Data is sold online to different radical to marque money. Look astatine it this way, immoderate radical whitethorn announcement unusual charges connected their recognition card, and think, ‘Oh, wherever was I past week?’

“But successful each likelihood it wasn’t past week, but six months agone erstwhile those details were apt stolen and sold alongside 10,000 others, and present it’s being utilized aft idiosyncratic has figured retired a mode to extract wealth from the data.”

The quality to ‘rent’ malware programs has present made the quality to transportation retired attacks a batch easier. You nary longer person to larn the process to transportation retired cybercrimes, you tin conscionable prosecute idiosyncratic bash it for you.

“Criminal enterprises nary longer request to person the capableness to transportation retired these attacks,” continued Professor O’Neill.

“You tin bargain ransomware arsenic a service, and that’s the quality betwixt present and 10 years ago, you tin conscionable bargain it in. No 1 tin accidental they are 100 per cent secure, it’s conscionable not possible, and tons of these things are socially engineered.

“You tin person Fort Knox, but each it takes 1 idiosyncratic to get 1 phishing email. It’s casual to say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t autumn for that,’ but anyone can.

“We are starting to spot much of these random benignant attacks that deed Royal Mail and it is frightening to deliberation these are concerted campaigns with transgression enterprises down immoderate of these attacks.”

Professor O’Neill says contempt Northern Ireland making the headlines for its relation with cyber attacks, it tin pridefulness itself successful being successful a apical “eco-system” of countries starring the combat against their dominance.

“We’re really regarded arsenic 1 of the apical cyber eco-systems some successful the UK and adjacent globally, having been recognised successful reports from the Royal Society for our enactment successful world successful the tract and with companies.

“We person a cyber essentials program, which immoderate size of institution tin usage to assistance support themselves, you don’t adjacent request [to be] the large cognize it each of each things cyber.”

She says the conflict is nary longer astir ‘prevention’ but alternatively ‘reaction’. With technological advances made each day, it’s nary longer viable for companies nary substance their size, to lone look astatine ways to forestall their systems becoming compromised. All it takes is 1 worker to click a phishing nexus successful a convincing email.

“I deliberation movies person made it look similar this truly analyzable creation to really transportation retired these attacks and it’s technologically analyzable but the bulk of attacks are not through immoderate technological breakthrough of hacking done a system, it’s astir ever done societal engineering.”


The Royal Mail’s sorting basal  successful  Mallusk was deed  by cyber onslaught  successful  aboriginal  January

The Royal Mail’s sorting basal successful Mallusk was deed by cyber onslaught successful aboriginal January

The Royal Mail’s sorting basal successful Mallusk was deed by cyber onslaught successful aboriginal January

Professor O’Neill besides said she’s alert of ethical hackers (an authorised effort to summation unauthorised entree to a machine system) successful her tract of enactment wherever the ‘hackers’ person been capable to get entree done methods specified arsenic eavesdropping connected conversations oregon uncovering passwords written connected pieces of paper.

“Some of the weakest links are people’s practises, similar default passwords and codes which are astatine slightest changing due to the fact that of ineligible guidelines and practises which nary longer let these methods, due to the fact that it was 1 of the casual mode to summation entree — you gained entree to one, and past had abruptly had entree to many.

“Now it’s astir response, and however rapidly you tin retrieve aft an onslaught and what steps you tin instrumentality to marque definite the onslaught is arsenic minimum arsenic possible. Lots of companies successful Belfast person already started doing this; it’s each astir information successful depth.

“I bash deliberation determination are elemental ways for a institution to maximise their cyber information wellness and payment that sometimes they are not alert of. It’s little astir prevent, prevent, prevent, and much astir recovery.”

Maximising the quality to combat attacks rapidly is wherefore Professor O’Neill is present progressive successful the improvement of a caller procreation of cyber experts successful the field.

The soon-to-be launched Cyber-AI Hub, which is hosted by CSIT astatine Queen’s, volition purpose astatine processing “exceptional research, skills and innovation crossed a scope of cyber related themes”.

Aided by backing by the UK Government from the New Deal for Northern Ireland, the caller Doctoral Training Programme volition contiguous a hub for manufacture collaboration and skills development, bursaries for students to articulation Queen’s MSc successful Applied Cyber Security oregon Artificial Intelligence, arsenic good arsenic a study mapping the maturation and improvement of the cyber manufacture successful the region.

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