United Nations hit by possible state-sponsored attack

At least 40 servers were compromised over three separate European offices, according to a leaked report

Hackers managed to infiltrate a slew of servers at three separate United Nation offices last year in what is reported as apparent espionage action. 

The extent of the hack, along with the identity of the perpetrators are unknown, and the attack itself has only just come to light thanks to a leaked document reported by The New Humanitarian

At least 40 servers at UN offices in Vienna, Geneva and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights - also located in Geneva - were compromised, according to the leaked document dated 20 September 2019. 

The UN suffered a "major meltdown", an unnamed UN official told TNH, and "Multiple workshops and assessments have been conducted to verify that the exploited vulnerabilities have been mitigated."

The cyber attack was so "sophisticated" that it was possibly the work of a state-backed actor, another official told the Associated Press

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"It's as if someone were walking in the sand, and swept up their tracks with a broom afterward," the official said. "There's not even a trace of a cleanup."

The attack began in the middle of July last year and was first reported by an IT official working at the Geneva office on 30 August: "We are working under the assumption that the entire domain is compromised. The attacker doesn't show signs of activity so far, we assume they established their position and are dormant."

It also included systems for the UN's human rights and human resources departments and breached some administrator accounts. The affected system included core infrastructure where user and management passwords, system controls and security firewalls were stored. Despite not being told what had happened, staff were asked to change their passwords.

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"The attack resulted in a compromise of core infrastructure components," said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, according to TNH. "As the exact nature and scope of the incident could not be determined, [the UN offices in Geneva and Vienna] decided not to publicly disclose the breach."

The UN has diplomatic status and is therefore immune from the legal process, so there is no regulation enforcing it to disclose breaches of data. 

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