Cybercrime , Fraud Management & Cybercrime , Incident & Breach Response

Breach Roundup: Cloud Error Reveals DPRK Sanctions Busting

Also: Hospitals Spend More on Cybersecurity; Critical Flaw in WordPress
Breach Roundup: Cloud Error Reveals DPRK Sanctions Busting
Image: Shutterstock

Every week, Information Security Media Group rounds up cybersecurity incidents and breaches around the world. This week, a cloud server error revealed sanction busting, Moody's said hospital cybersecurity spending is up, the U.S. restricted visas for commercial spyware operators, a ransomware attack hit a lab in Italy, hackers exploited a WordPress flaw, and Argentinian data is for sale on a criminal forum.

See Also: Webinar | Everything You Can Do to Fight Social Engineering and Phishing

North Korean Animators Evade Sanctions

A cloud computing misconfiguration can bite anybody - even the Hermit Kingdom government of North Korea, which exposed a server to the internet, revealing subcontracting work for Western and Japanese animation shows.

North Korea for decades sought to position itself as an animation powerhouse willing to take on the drudgery of cartoon production in exchange for infusions of foreign cash. Its work through state-run SEK Studio has gone from semi-open industry secret to sanctioned no-no.

The server's discovery by Nick Roy, who monitors the North Korean internet on his NK Internet blog, led him, the Stimson Center and Mandiant to monitor the site. The U.S. think tank in a Monday blog post said new files appeared daily throughout January, including instructions for animation work and the results of that day's work.

"Often the files contained editing comments and instructions in Chinese, presumably written by the production company, along with a translation of those instructions into Korean. This suggests a go-between was responsible for relaying information between the production companies and the animators." Some of the shows apparently outsourced to North Korea - very likely without their management's knowledge - included Amazon's "Invincible," Max's "Iyanu: Child of Wonder" and a Japanese anime series scheduled to air in July, "Dahlia in Bloom."

"It is likely that the contracting arrangement was several steps downstream from the major producers," the Stimson Center said. Forensic analysis showed logins from internet addresses associated with VPN services and also IP addresses originating from Spain and a Chinese province adjacent to North Korea where an expatriated North Korean labor force works, often under forced conditions.

Moody's: Healthcare Cybersecurity Spending Going Up

A survey of the hospital sector by U.S. rating agency Moody's shows that adoption of basic cybersecurity practices is robust and cybersecurity spending is on the rise.

According to the survey of 148 healthcare organizations - approximately 80% in North American and the remainder in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region - cybersecurity as a share of IT spending reached 7% of the total in 2023, up from 5% in 2019. Full-time headcount has gone up by 30% from 2019 to 2022 - although hospitals are also outsourcing cybersecurity personnel to a much greater degree than the rest of the global economy. Moody's said there was a 50% increase in outsourced employees from 2019 to 2022 - much more than the global average of 15% and more even than the 41% increase in the banking sector.

Nine in 10 survey respondents said their healthcare organizations require a cybersecurity assessment of new vendors and 72% said vendors must undergo ongoing assessments.

Third-party business associates - from bill collection companies to medical transcription services - were at the center of nearly 40% of breaches reported and two-thirds of people affected in 2023 (see: How 2023 Broke Long Running Records for Health Data Breaches).

Just how disruptive third-party breaches can be is starkly illustrated by the ongoing effects of a cyberattack against medical financial intermediary Change Healthcare (see: UnitedHealth Group Previews Massive Change Healthcare Breach).

Moody's found that cyber governance "is generally strong" in healthcare, but disclosure practices vary. Ninety-four percent of the respondents said their organizations have dedicated cyber staff that reports to the C-suite. "However, the level of cyber incident disclosure varies among healthcare subsectors," the report says.

US Restricts Visas for Commercial Spyware Operators

The U.S. Department of State initiated visa restrictions against 13 individuals associated with commercial spyware operations, preventing their entry into the country. The crackdown also includes immediate families. "These individuals have facilitated or derived financial benefit from the misuse of this technology, which has targeted journalists, academics, human rights defenders, dissidents and other perceived critics, and U.S. government personnel," a State spokesperson said.

In a related development, the Bureau of Industry and Security blacklisted four European spyware companies due to their involvement in trafficking exploits used for hacking high-risk individuals' devices worldwide. The companies are Intellexa S.A. in Greece, Cytrox Holdings ZRT in Hungary, Intellexa Limited in Ireland, and Cytrox AD in North Macedonia. Inclusion on the bureau's blacklist, formally known as the Entity List, means that U.S. companies must first seek a license before selling technology to the companies. The federal government treats license applications with a presumption of denial.

Ransomware Attack Halts Medical Testing at Italian Lab

Italian medical diagnostic and testing laboratory Synlab Italia, part of the global Synlab group, suspended all services following a ransomware attack that compromised its IT systems. The facility network halted operations on April 18. A Wednesday update directs clients to only sent blood samples that can be separated and frozen, "strongly advising" against sending perishable samples such as urine and whole blood.

The attack prompted Synlab Italia to shut down its entire computer infrastructure as a precautionary measure. Samples received before the attack are stored under proper conditions, but customers may need to resubmit samples, depending on the restoration timeline.

Hackers Exploit Critical WordPress Vulnerability

Hackers are rushing to exploit an SQL injection vulnerability in a WordPress plug-in, and website security experts are warning that attackers could use the flaw to "create admin‑level user accounts, upload malicious files, and potentially take full control of affected sites."

WPScan Wednesday said it has observed more than 5.5 million attack attempts in a wave of hacks that reached a peak on March 31. The vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2024-27956, is in the WP-Automatic plug-in, which allows webmasters to automate content importing, such as images and video from online sources. Researchers at PatchStack disclosed the attack on March 13, warning that the "vulnerability is highly dangerous and expected to become mass exploited."

Hackers exploit the vulnerability to ensure long-term access to compromised websites by uploading backdoors. They also may rename the vulnerable WP-Automatic file, WPScan wrote, "making it difficult for website owners or security tools to identify or block the issue."

Hacker Sells Contents of Argentinian Resident Registry Database

A hacker claims on a criminal forum to be selling a database of records stolen from Argentina's national registry, leading the agency, known as RENAPER, to deny on April 17 that it experienced a hack or a new data breach. The data set appears to include identity cards, photos and fingerprints. It is likely a repost of data stolen in 2021.

Other Coverage From Last Week

With reporting from Information Security Media Group's Marianne Kolbasuk McGee in Massachusetts and David Perera in Washington, D.C.


About the Author

Anviksha More

Anviksha More

Senior Subeditor, ISMG Global News Desk

More has seven years of experience in journalism, writing and editing. She previously worked with Janes Defense and the Bangalore Mirror.




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