United Nations

31 Jan 2020

Not only has it been leaked that the UN was hacked, but there’s also evidence suggesting they tried to cover it up.

What We Know

According to a confidential internal document that was leaked to The New Humanitarian and shared with the  Associated Press (AP), more than 40 servers in Geneva and Vienna were compromised.  This includes the UN’s human rights office, which has drawn sharp criticism from Authoritarian administrations, due to the departments’s chastising of human rights’ violations committed by those countries’ leaders.

That’s important to note, because the attack seems to be highly sophisticated, as in “state-backed” levels of sophistication, according to one anonymous UN official.  This official also said that the hack was first discovered sometime last Summer, and that the extent of the hack is still unknown, both in terms of the amount of data that was breached and the level of significance of the stolen information.

However, the UN’s human right’s spokesman, Rupert Colville disagreed with that sentiment in an official statement, where he acknowledged they were compromised, but stated that the hackers “not get very far” and that “nothing confidential was compromised.”  In their office, the hackers only reached the “active” directory that houses only surface staff information like email addresses.  Apparently no passwords or other sensitive information was taken.

To date, we have not heard any announcements from the UN’s NY or Geneva offices, but we do know from the anonymous source that the highly sensitive data, such as information on the conflict in Syria, is extremely secure and has not been compromised.

The Leaked Documents

According to the leaked document, written from the UN’s Office of Information and Technology, 42 servers were full-on “compromised” while an additional 25 were found to be “suspicious” which means that nearly every single server in the Vienna and Geneva offices were impacted.

Since the initial discovery of the hack last summer, technicians have worked (often around-the-clock and on weekends) to secure the affected servers by isolating the data centers, wiping the systems and re-enforcing passwords.

Broader Issues

This is a very timely attack, as concerns have been voiced recently regarding the vulnerability of devices used by governments and the UN, such as computers and smartphones, especially considering the fact that the UN’s human rights office would make a very tempting target for nations that abuse human rights.  Many of the experts who work for that department could be seen as vulnerable, due to the fact that they are “independent” and aren’t as protected or secure as actual officials.

What Does It All Mean?

According to Jack Williams, a former hacker-turned-CEO of the data firm Rendition Infosec, the hack appears to be “espionage” and it is believed the cyber spies were able to exploit a vulnerability in the Microsoft software program “Sharepoint” to compromise the UN servers.

The anonymous UN official agrees with this assessment, stating “It’s as if someone were walking in the sand, and swept up their tracks with a broom afterward.”

What Is the Takeaway

If an entity such as the UN can be compromised, just how safe do you feel your company is?  True, it may not be as big of a target, but hackers understand that and will use a lackadaisical attitude towards cyber security against small businesses such as yours.

If you aren’t sure just how secure your company’s defenses are against sophisticated (and unsophisticated) cyber criminals, schedule a free consultation with Craig, or give us a call at 919-422-2607.

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