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Monday, 29 March 2021 22:38

Nine says Russia or North Korea suspected of being behind network attack

Nine's Footy Classified program being broadcast on Monday night. Nine's Footy Classified program being broadcast on Monday night. Sam Varghese

Australian media company Nine Entertainment claims Russia or North Korea may be behind a network attack on the company which led to major issues on Sunday, preventing its TV network from presenting a full line-up of programs.

In its evening news bulletin on Monday, a day on which it managed to broadcast the whole day, Channel Nine said the two countries were suspected because the network had run a program critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on its 60 Minutes program on Sunday night.

The attack was made public on Sunday morning, a day on which Nine could not broadcast its popular NRL Sunday Footy Show, though it managed to show the afternoon's rugby league games.

On Monday night, Nine ran a program about Russia's use of chemical poisons to kill its enemies abroad, as part of its new Under Investigation series, and speculation over Moscow's involvement has sprung from this.

Nine's new chief executive Mike Sneesby and chief information and technology officer Damian Cronan circulated a note to staff shortly before 10pm AEDT on Monday, outlining where the company was in terms of getting back to normal.

Sneesby said a cross-business working group had been set up to decide on which services needed to be restored sooner.

Cronan said the first 24 hours since the attack was noticed had been focused on containment, which he said had been successful.

"The consequence of this containment strategy is that our corporate network has been disconnected from the Internet, and all internal networks separated from one another (e.g. Broadcast from Publishing, Sydney from Melbourne etc). Other upstream and downstream providers have also been disconnected," he added.

All staff were given instructions on how to run diagnostics on their laptops to ensure that any infected work streams could be isolated.

"We will be carefully assessing how we bring back controlled levels of connectivity into the network with an emphasis on service restoration, and I want to be clear it will take time before all our systems are back up and running," Cronan said.

Nine also said in its news broadcast that it had faced issues getting its newspapers — the company owns The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review — out, though there were more problems with publishing the online editions than the print publications.

In a note to subscribers, which was posted on Monday afternoon and then updated at 7.07pm, AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury and editor Paul Bailey said: "Production of the Australian Financial Review continues to be disrupted by the cyber attack on Nine on Sunday.

"To minimise disruption for subscribers while we work to restore our systems, all of our articles have been made available to read without logging in.

"Access to subscriber-only features has now been restored including for Today’s Paper, Newsfeed, recently read, saved articles, markets data and company pages. Subscribers who cannot access the ipad and phone apps can read all of our articles on Email newsletters are being sent as usual.

"We also have limited access to our print production system and are unable to use new photographs or create graphics. We are working to return production of the print edition to its usual high quality."

Given that the attack was on Nine's Sydney offices, most of the TV and newspaper work has been done from Melbourne, with staff working from home for the most part.

In the case of the TV output, the company has had to split between Melbourne and Sydney to run a full schedule on Monday.

Ransomware has been suspected to be used for the attack but Nine is still claiming it has not received any ransom note.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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