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Monday, 05 April 2021 16:09

Nine still mum on network attack details as recovery continues Featured

Nine still mum on network attack details as recovery continues Image by philm1310 from Pixabay

Australian media firm Nine Entertainment is continuing to stay mum as far as public statements on the network attack on its Sydney offices go. It is more or less certain now that Windows ransomware known as MedusaLocker was used in the attack.

The company's new chief executive, Mike Sneesby, who was faced by the attack on the day he walked into the job, said in part in a statement to staff on 1 April: "As a result of the efforts of 9Technology and Broadcast Operations — and the ingenuity and collaboration of teams right across the business — we are now returning a number of our core systems, with more systems anticipated to come online over the weekend.

"We anticipate that from next week, we can welcome more people back into our workplaces and we will communicate with your managers over the weekend with more details for each of our locations nationwide."

But when it comes to specifics, the company is silent even though one of its own publications, the Australian Financial Review, has reported that staff were told to look on their PCs for a file named Recovery_ Instructions.html which is the ransom note issued by the ransomware in question, MedusaLocker.

Nine has insisted that it has not received any ransom note, which, in strict legal terms, is correct. Brett Callow, a ransomware researcher with the New Zealand-headquarter Emsisoft, told iTWire on Sunday that in the case of MedusaLocker the note left behind made no mention of a ransom.

"The note dropped by MedusaLocker doesn’t actually make any demands; it simply tells companies that their data has been encrypted and invites them to get in touch should they wish to purchase a decryptor," he pointed out.

iTWire sent the following queries to Nine early on Sunday morning, with a request that the company respond by noon on Monday:

Nine is continuing to push the line that no ransom note has been received after the attack — despite one of your own publications, the AFR, reporting that staff have been asked to look for a file named Recovery_ Instructions.html — which is the ransom note issued by the ransomware in question, MedusaLocker. A report dated April 3 propagates this further. Isn't it time you told the public the truth? Or are you afraid this will affect the share price?

In 2019, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro, a much bigger operation than Nine, was hit by ransomware. The way they handled it drew praise from former Sophos executive, Graham Cluley. British sec researcher Kevin Beaumont also had many good things to say about their response. The Norsk attack had one similarity to Nine – the CEO had just started in his job. Cluley had this to say: "I’ve always considered that a security breach is only part of the story. A large chunk of the narrative, and how it ends up impacting your organisation and reputation, rests upon your response following an incident." Any comments?

Has print publishing at Nine returned to normal?

Is online publishing at Nine back to normal?

Can staff go back to the office if they need/wish to do so?

Companies of your size generally have what is known as a demilitarised zone which separates the Internet-facing computers from those within, behind the firewall. Publicly available information shows that Akamai and AWS are providers for Nine. These are not small players; so how were the barriers bypassed?

Did Nine have proper back-ups in place to restore machines to their previous state, in the event that they had to be wiped due to the ransomware infection?

Have your technical people ascertained how the infection happened – through phishing or through a watering hole attack?

MedusaLocker was discovered in 2019 and there are plenty of packages that recognise and protect against it. Was Nine (and its associated entities) not running any software to protect against it?

It is now a week since the first public announcement that there was an attack on the company's Sydney offices. When do you plan to issue a detailed statement to boost public confidence in the company?

The company has not provided any answers that can be quoted. iTWire understands that there will be no information about the attack released to the public.

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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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