Posted on January 30, 2020 at 6:29 PM
It seems the activities of hackers are not stopping anytime soon, as they keep posing a threat to several organizations. This time, reports claim they have succeeded in infiltrating the United Nations.
The extent of the data they got as well as their identity is not clear. But there have been confirmed reports that the hackers breached some of the systems in United Nations offices in Vienna and Geneva last year. The report gathered that the attempt was an obvious espionage operation.
A United Nations confidential document, seen by the Associated Press and leaked to The New Humanitarian, revealed that dozens of U.N. servers were breached at the organization’s human rights office. The human rights office of the U.N. has always stood out to criticize autocratic governments and exposing their rights abuses.
A state-backed actor may have been behind the attack
When a U.N. official was questioned about the development, he said that the hackers appeared to have used a sophisticated method and the level of damage caused by the hackers has not been ascertained yet. The U.N. doesn’t know yet what damage has been perpetrated in terms of information or personal data. The official refused to reveal his name, but he said there has been a reinforcement of the hacked systems.
According to the official, the level of sophistication used in the attack was very high, which suggests it’s likely that the attackers were backed by a government. Such a level of sophistication would require a huge investment in tools and personnel, the official said. They swept their traces very clean, which makes it very difficult to trace who is behind the attack.
However, the attackers could not succeed in penetrating the New York headquarters of the U.N, according to CBS News. A United Nations official also said the international body has always been battling against attacks and have spent so much to keep hackers at bay. Yet, these hackers are always trying their luck and looking for loopholes that can help them get in.
Conflicting reports about the severity of the attack
Rupert Colville, a U.N. Human Rights spokesman, said that it is true the U.N. was hacked, and this is not the first incident. He said hackers have always been attempting to get into the U.N. systems on a daily basis. The body is always fortifying its systems to keep these hacking actors at bay and off its systems. But this time, they succeeded, albeit to a small extent. He said nothing substantial was breached.
However, the September report contradicts Colville’s statement. While the leaked September report revealed that some accounts of administrators were hacked, Colville did not mention any of such breach in his statement.
Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesperson, said the attackers were able to compromise some vital infrastructure components, which could contain important data. From the conflicting revelations, it’s not certain how bad or vulnerable the attacker has left the affected systems. But from reports gathered, the systems have been patched and serious damage was not done to the most important data in the U.N. servers.
Hackers were possible government-sponsored, but not top-flight actors
The report revealed that those administrators have complete access to all user accounts. Former U.S. government hacker and CEO of Rendition Cybersecurity firm said that the hackers were not top-flight because they attempted to clear the network logs. If they were very sophisticated, they would have tried to edit the logs instead of clearing them.
He said the very top hackers from Chinese, Russia, and U.S could have covered their tracks by editing the logs, but these ones tried to clear the entire logs, which showed they are not very skillful. However, their success in hacking some U.N. servers showed they used a sophisticated tool for their hacking activity, he said.
Williams also said that the nature of the attack and the systems they targeted showed that the actors were doing this for espionage. They are most likely state-sponsored hackers looking for sensitive information they could use. According to him, the hackers have an objective to send malware to systems they believe are important to their cause.
Many intelligence agencies in the world would definitely have an interest in infiltrating the U.N. So it’s difficult to trade the actors to a particular government.