Nine Network – The ransomware attack with no ransom

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An intriguing element of the recent Nine attack that continues to baffle experts

Nine Entertainment was hit by a massive cyber attack” early on Sunday morning, as we noted earlier this week.

Now, Nine Entertainment has warned it will take time before it is able to bring its systems back online following a ransomware attack that has bafflingly contained no ransom demand.

The problems began on the night of March 27, when computers at the Channel Nine office in Sydney started “acting strangely”. By the following morning, many of them were completely inoperable.

It left Nine unable to broadcast live TV, including its breakfast program Weekend Today, for several hours that day. Thousands of machines are understood to have been impacted by the infection.

The company managed to broadcast the rugby and a national news bulletin later that day, and by Monday, its live breakfast program was back on-air, although not at full capacity.

Nine’s publishing arm was largely unaffected, aside from some smaller issues with the publishing systems used to produce The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, among others. All employees have been asked to work from home while the company works to recover.

Nine-owned news outlet The Australian Financial Review attributed the infection to a strain of ransomware called MedusaLocker. Nine is yet to officially confirm the report.

MedusaLocker was first spotted in 2019. Unlike many modern forms of ransomware, it does not attempt to steal data as well as encrypt it – it’s aim is solely to prevent access to systems to force the victim organisation to pay a ransom. It normally leaves a ransom note behind.

MedusaLocker also goes after backups to stop the victim organisation from being able to restore its operations that way. 

However, unusually, Nine does not appear to have received a ransom demand following the infection.

The Nine-owned Sydney Morning Herald today suggested the aim of the attack could have been to steal sensitive data or disrupt the company’s broadcast and media operations.

Often in ransomware attacks, the perpetrator’s ransom demands will be published on the dark web. Security researchers are yet to identify any ransom demands associated with the Nine attack, nor has any group come forward to claim responsibility for it.

In an update to staff on Monday night, Nine chief information and technology officer Damian Cronan warned it would be some time before the company could return to full operations.

While a number of core systems remain offline, Cronan said the attack had been contained by disabling connectivity between different internal networks as well as external partners.

He said Nine was confident it had isolated the attacker and the destructive activity.

The company is working to recover its most critical services – like on-air and print operations – as a priority in a controlled manner.

It has requested assistance from the Australian Cyber Security Centre in its clean-up efforts and to determine the source of the attack.

It’s currently unclear how the perpetrators managed to infiltrate Nine’s network. MedusaLocker perpetrators often abuse email systems through things like phishing attacks to distribute their malware.

The Sydney Morning Herald indicated once inside, the hackers sent out malicious updates to employee computers to encrypt them.

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.

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