Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware
Avaddon’s ransomware is programmed not to target computers with Russian-language keyboards and enjoys safe harbor in former Soviet states. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 19 May 2021

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware

Asia AXA units, NZ health provider are latest targets hit by ransomware
  • Ransomware attacks returned to headlines this month after hackers struck the United States’ largest fuel pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline. The company shut it down for days

BANGKOK: The Thai affiliate of Paris-based insurance company AXA said Tuesday it is investigating a ransomware attack by Russian-speaking cybercriminals that has affected operations in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, a cyberattack on a public health provider in New Zealand took down information systems across five hospitals, forcing staff to cancel some elective surgeries and creating all sorts of other problems.

In Bangkok, Krungthai AXA said it has formed a team with AXA’s Inter Partner Assistance to urgently investigate the problem. It was unclear how long it might take to evaluate the exposure of personal data after the criminals claimed to have stolen 3 terabytes of data including medical records, customer IDs and privileged communications with hospitals and doctors.

Kanjana Anantasomboon, assistant vice president for corporate and internal communications at Krungthai-AXA Life Insurance, said the company handles some of its services inhouse, so only part, she declined to say how much, of its customer data was with Inter Partner Assistance’s claim service.

AXA Partners, the Paris insurer’s international arm, has given few details. It said Sunday that the full impact of the attack was being investigated and that steps would be “taken to notify and support all corporate clients and individuals impacted.” It said the attack was recent, but did not specify when exactly. It said data in Thailand was accessed.

In New Zealand, Waikato District Health Board Chief Executive, Kevin Snee, said its emergency department was now only taking urgent patients. He said administrators were working to resolve the issue but he gave no timeline for when the system might be restored.

Dr. Deborah Powell, the national secretary for two unions representing doctors and other health professionals, said the attack hit every part of the operation, with doctors unable to access clinical records to quickly assess patients.

Still, Powell said she didn’t believe patients were at extra risk because staff were using workarounds.

Hospital discharges were being done by hand, and a pager system to alert multiple doctors when a patient suffered a cardiac arrest that was down was replaced by a system of personal mobile numbers. People trying to contact patients were encouraged to try calling their cell phones.

Powell said she was told it was a ransomware attack. New Zealand’s Ministry of Health described it only as an “attempted cyber incident.”

It was unclear if the event was linked in any way to others, including a cyberattack that has nearly paralyzed Ireland’s national health care IT systems. Conti, a Russian-speaking ransomware group different from the one involved in the attack on AXA, was demanding $20 million, according to the ransom negotiation page on its darknet site.

That gang threatened Monday to “start publishing and selling your private information very soon.”

The Irish government’s decision not to pay the criminals means hospitals won’t have access to patient records — and must resort mostly to handwritten notes — until painstaking efforts are complete to restore thousands of computer servers from backups.

News of the Asia attack was first reported by the Financial Times. The attackers used a ransomware variant called Avaddon. Avaddon threatened to leak “valuable company documents” in 10 days if the company did not pay an unspecified ransom.

So-called “big-game” hunters like Avaddon and Conti identify and target lucrative victims, leasing their “ransomware-as-a-service” to affiliates they recruit who do most of the heavy-lifting — taking more risk and a higher share of the profits.

AXA, among Europe’s top five insurers, said this month that it will stop writing cyber-insurance policies in France that reimburse customers for extortion payments made to ransomware criminals. It said it did so out of concern that such reimbursements encourage cyber criminals to demand ransom from companies they prey on, crippling them with malware. Once victims of ransomware pay up, criminals provide software keys to decode the data.

Ransomware attacks returned to headlines this month after hackers struck the United States’ largest fuel pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline. The company shut it down for days to contain the damage.

Last year, ransomware reached epidemic levels as criminals increasingly turned to “double extortion,” stealing sensitive data before activating the encryption software that paralyzes networks and threatening to dump it online if they don’t get paid.

That appears to be what happened to the AXA subsidiaries and Ireland’s health care system.

The top victims of ransomware are in the United States, followed by France, experts say. The extent of damage and payouts in Asian countries is unclear. Like most top ransomware purveyors, Avaddon’s ransomware is programmed not to target computers with Russian-language keyboards and enjoys safe harbor in former Soviet states.

Conti also enjoys Kremlin tolerance and is among the most prolific of such gangs. It recently attacked the school system in Broward County, Florida, which serves Fort Lauderdale and is one of the largest US school districts.


Indian fintech provider plans expansion into KSA, Oman

Indian fintech provider plans expansion into KSA, Oman
Photo/Twitter
Updated 34 min 39 sec ago

Indian fintech provider plans expansion into KSA, Oman

Indian fintech provider plans expansion into KSA, Oman
  • The company is aiming to double the global volume of transactions it processes to nearly $6 billion by March 2022

RIYADH: Indian financial technology (fintech) provider PayMate is planning to expand into Saudi Arabia and Oman after having recently launched into the region in the UAE.

Mumbai-based PayMate, which helps companies manage their cash flow and invoice payments, is aiming that up to 15 percent of its total revenue will come from the Middle East market within the next year.

“Our first customer went live recently in the UAE. We have a strong pipeline of customers there. And we are also expanding to new countries like Saudi Arabia and Oman thereafter,” founder and CEO Ajay Adiseshann was quoted as saying by The Hindu newspaper this week.

“It is exactly the same model, the same use-case, same problem statement which we address here in India. We are delivering everything from India, via the cloud. But from a sales development, business standpoint, we have our local employees in those countries.”

The company is aiming to double the global volume of transactions it processes to nearly $6 billion by March 2022.

Chief Financial Officer Ravi Vishvanathan told the Economic Times that PayMate currently has 200 companies using its platform and is aiming to boost this to around 400 by March 2022.


GAMI presents growth strategy for Saudi military sector

GAMI presents growth strategy for Saudi military sector
Updated 23 June 2021

GAMI presents growth strategy for Saudi military sector

GAMI presents growth strategy for Saudi military sector
  • Ahmad Al-Ohali provided an overview of the national military industry strategy, the Industrial Participation Program, and the role of research and technology in Saudi Arabia’s defense strategy
  • H. Delano Roosevelt recalled the long history of cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, and predicted that America will continue to play a dominant role in supporting the Kingdom

RIYADH: The US-Saudi Business Council (USSBC) and the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) presented an executive virtual webinar on Wednesday titled “Understanding Saudi Arabia’s Military Industry Growth Strategy.”

Moderated by USSBC President and CEO H. Delano Roosevelt, the webinar provided participating US company representatives with an understanding of the Kingdom’s blossoming defense and security sector. 

Ahmad Al-Ohali, governor of GAMI and the event’s featured speaker, highlighted the authority’s role in developing the Kingdom’s military industry sector.

He also provided an overview of the national military industry strategy, the Industrial Participation Program, and the role of research and technology in Saudi Arabia’s defense strategy.

GAMI was established to grow the Kingdom’s military industries sector, in line with the Vision 2030 target of localizing more than 50 percent of defense expenditures by 2030.

GAMI is the regulator, enabler and licensor of the sector, and is responsible for its development and empowerment. 

Since the launch of Vision 2030 just five years ago, Saudi Arabia has achieved significant socioeconomic milestones while showing tremendous progress in transforming many key sectors of the economy. 

As a result of GAMI’s commitment to its mandate, the military industries sector has rapidly transformed and is now on a steady path to becoming a major contributor to Saudi Arabia’s non-oil gross domestic product. 

Al-Ohali emphasized the breadth of opportunities that Saudi Arabia’s defense localization presents to global investors and US defense partners.

Development of the military industries sector requires a whole ecosystem of research and technology institutions, a skilled workforce and other support functions, in addition to local production capabilities, he said. 

Roosevelt recalled the long history of cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, and predicted that America will continue to play a dominant role in supporting the Kingdom through future strategic relationships.

He said the USSBC will continue facilitating connections between US and Saudi companies, and educating American businesses about the benefits of engaging in the Saudi market.


SABIC, BASF discuss plastics circular economy in Riyadh

SABIC, BASF discuss plastics circular economy in Riyadh
Updated 23 June 2021

SABIC, BASF discuss plastics circular economy in Riyadh

SABIC, BASF discuss plastics circular economy in Riyadh
  • SABIC is working with UK-based company Plastic Energy to build its first commercial unit in Geleen
  • Chemicals giant focuses on recycling plastics

RIYADH: SABIC and BASF, two of the world’s largest chemical producers, met in Riyadh to share insights into their respective programs to develop circular economy solutions for the plastics industry.
SABIC shared progress it has made with TRUCIRCLE, a collection of processes that allow for the certification of polymers created through recycling of used and mixed plastic, certified bio-based renewable polymers, certified renewable polycarbonate (PC), and mechanically recycled polymers.
BASF discussed ChemCycling, a project to develop a pyrolysis technology that turns plastic waste into a secondary raw material called pyrolysis oil. The German multinational also explained how its plastic additives facilitate mechanical recycling of plastics.
SABIC is working with UK-based company Plastic Energy to build its first commercial unit in Geleen, The Netherlands, which will produce TRUCIRCLE certified circular polymers from recycled plastic.
“TRUCIRCLE has been introduced as a way to collectively showcase our circular innovations and help manufacturers reduce plastic waste through the adoption of a range of sustainable material solutions,” said Mark Vester, SABIC’ global leader circular economy. “It forms part of our circular economy business and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Responsible Consumption and Production.”


Humvee maker strikes military vehicle deal with Egypt

Humvee maker strikes military vehicle deal with Egypt
Updated 23 June 2021

Humvee maker strikes military vehicle deal with Egypt

Humvee maker strikes military vehicle deal with Egypt
  • The company will study the feasibility of developing an in-country assembly and manufacturing capability to allow Egypt to replace or supplement its existing Humvee fleet

DUBAI: Humvee manufacturer AM General has struck an initial agreement to help develop the production of military vehicles in Egypt.
The deal with the Egyptian Ministry of Military Production is expected to become a long term partnership to develop and build tactical vehicles in-country, the US-based company said in a statement on Wednesday.
The company will study the feasibility of developing an in-country assembly and manufacturing capability to allow Egypt to replace or supplement its existing Humvee fleet.
“Today’s signing ceremony further solidifies our long-standing relationship with the government of Egypt,” said AM General President CEO Andy Hove. “We look forward to applying our manufacturing and design expertise to help grow the Egyptian automotive industry.”
The agreement is part of a broader push to develop more domestic military manufacturing in Egypt which is already a major defense sector importer. Arab states are ramping up spending on local defense sector investments as part of their economic diversification agendas which aim to create more local jobs while at the same time substituting value-added imports with locally manufactured alternatives.


Oman to grant foreign investors 10-year residency

Oman to grant foreign investors 10-year residency
Updated 23 June 2021

Oman to grant foreign investors 10-year residency

Oman to grant foreign investors 10-year residency
  • Program is open to foreign retirees

RIYADH: Oman has announced a new program under which foreign investors are granted long-term residency, Asharq reported citing a statement by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Investment Promotion.

The Investor Residence program will be for a period of five to 10 years, subject to renewal, and is open to foreign retirees, the ministry said.

The program, starting in September, aims to attract quality investments according to clear and specific controls.