Stockholm: One of the largest ransomware attacks in history has spread worldwide, affecting thousands of businesses and forcing Swedish Coop grocery store chain to close all 800 of its stores because it could not operate its cash registers.
It follows a scourge of headline-grabbing attacks over recent months that have been a source of diplomatic tension between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin over whether Russia has become a safe haven for cybercriminal gangs.
A growing number of companies are reporting cyber attacks.
Biden said on Saturday he didn’t yet know for certain who was responsible but suggested that the US would respond if Russia was found to have anything to do with it.
“If it is either with the knowledge of and or a consequence of Russia then I told Putin we will respond,” Biden said. “We’re not certain. The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government.”
The shutdown of the major food retailer followed unusually sophisticated attack on US tech provider Kaseya. The ransomware gang known as REvil is suspected of hijacking Kaseya’s desktop management tool VSA and pushing a malicious update that infect tech management providers serving thousands of business.
Miami-based Kaseya said it was working with the FBI and that only about 40 of its customers were directly affected. It did not comment on how many of those were providers that in turn spread the malicious software to others.
In a statement late on Saturday, the FBI said it was investigating in coordination with the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
“We encourage all who might be affected to employ the recommended mitigations and for users to follow Kaseya’s guidance to shut down VSA servers immediately,” the agency said.
The affected businesses had files encrypted and were left electronic messages asking for ransom payments of thousands or millions of dollars.
Some experts said the timing of attack, on the Friday before a US holiday long weekend, was aimed at spreading it as quickly as possible while employees were away from the job.
“What we are seeing now in terms of victims is likely just the tip of the iceberg,” said Adam Meyers, senior vice president of security company CrowdStrike.
According to Coop, one of Sweden’s biggest grocery chains, a tool used to remotely update its checkout tills was affected by the attack, so payments could not be taken.
“We have been troubleshooting and restoring all night, but have communicated that we will need to keep the stores closed today,” Coop spokesperson Therese Knapp told Swedish Television.
The Swedish news agency TT said Kaseya technology was used by the Swedish company Visma Esscom, which manages servers and devices for a number of Swedish businesses.
State railways services and a pharmacy chain also suffered disruption.
“They have been hit in various degrees,” Visma Esscom chief executive Fabian Mogren told TT.
Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish television the attack was “very dangerous” and showed how business and state agencies needed to improve their preparedness.
“In a different geopolitical situation, it may be government actors who attack us in this way in order to shut down society and create chaos,” he said.
The US Chamber of Commerce said it was affecting hundreds of businesses and was “another reminder that the US government must take the fight to these foreign cybercriminal syndicates” by investigating, disrupting and prosecuting them.
REvil, the group most experts have tied to the attack, was the same ransomware provider that the FBI linked to an attack on JBS SA, a major global meat processor forced to pay a $US11 million ransom, amid the Memorial Day holiday weekend in May.
Active since April 2019, the group provides ransomware-as-a-service, meaning it develops the network-paralysing software and leases it to so-called affiliates who infect targets and earn the lion’s share of ransoms.
US officials have said the most potent ransomware gangs are based in Russia and allied states and operate with Kremlin tolerance and sometimes collude with Russian security services.
Alperovitch said he believes the latest attack is financially motivated and not Kremlin-directed.
However, he said it shows that Putin “has not yet moved” on shutting down cybercriminals within Russia after Biden pressed him to do so at their June summit in Switzerland.
Asked about the attack during a trip to Michigan on Saturday, Biden said he had asked the intelligence community for a “deep dive” on what happened. He said he expected to know more by Sunday.
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