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Hackers strike across Europe, sparking widespread disruption

Ukraine hit especially hard with attacks on central bank, government offices, power grid; Russian oil giant, Dutch shipper also report issues

The National Bank of Ukraine, in Kiev. (Julia Berezovska/ Press office NBU)
The National Bank of Ukraine, in Kiev. (Julia Berezovska/ Press office NBU)

PARIS (AP) — Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe Tuesday, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia’s Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

“We are talking about a cyberattack,” said Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based group. “It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government’s headquarters has been shut down.

There’s very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made.

The world is still recovering from a previous outbreak of ransomware, called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, which spread rapidly using digital break-in tools originally created by the US National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.

Ukraine’s central bank said the cyberattack hit several lenders in the country, hindering operations and leading the regulator to warn other financial institutions to tighten security measures.

“The National Bank of Ukraine has warned banks… about an external hacker attack on the websites of some Ukrainian banks… which was carried out today,” the bank said in a statement.

Banks were experiencing “difficulty in servicing customers and performing banking operations” due to the attacks, it said.

“All the financial market participants have taken steps to tighten security measures to counteract these hacker attacks,” it said, adding that “banking infrastructure is securely protected” and further attacks “will be efficiently warded off.”

Among the banks apparently affected was Oschadbank, one of Ukraine’s largest, it said on the website, forcing it to limit services available to clients.

“The bank’s services together with the National Bank of Ukraine are putting in maximum effort to reinstate access to all bank services,” it said.

Earlier an attack was also reported by the power company in Kiev, Kyivenergo. “We were forced to turn off all of our computers,” a company representative told Interfax Ukraine agency.

Ukraine’s delivery service company Nova Poshta, which was also attacked Tuesday, identified the virus that hit its computers as Petya.A, a type of ransomware which locks users out of the system and demands purchase of a key to reinstate access.

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