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)
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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.


Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns
Updated 14 June 2021

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns

Energy majors bid for Qatar LNG project despite lower returns
  • Qatar plans to grow its LNG output by 40 percent to 110 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2026

LONDON: Six top western energy firms are vying to partner in the vast expansion of Qatar’s liquefied natural gas output, industry sources said, helping the Gulf state cement its position as the leading LNG producer while several large projects around the world recently stalled.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, TotalEnergies and ConocoPhillips, which are part of Qatar’s existing LNG production were joined by new entrants Chevron and Italy’s Eni in submitting bids on May 24 for the expansion project, industry sources told Reuters.
The bids show energy giants continue to have appetite for investing in competitive oil and gas projects despite growing government, investor and activist pressure on the sector to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Unlike Qatar’s early LNG projects in the 1990s and 2000s when the country relied heavily on international oil companies’ technical expertise and deep pockets, the country’s national oil company Qatar Petroleum (QP) has gone ahead alone with the development of the nearly $30 billion North Field expansion project.
It is, however, seeking to partner with the oil majors in order to share the financial risk of the development and help sell the additional volumes of LNG it will produce.
“I don’t think QP need the IOCs expertise in the upstream or midstream construction of the project but they will be glad to see someone take some LNG volumes off their hands,” a senior source in one of the bidding companies said.
Qatar plans to grow its LNG output by 40 percent to 110 million tons per annum (mtpa) by 2026, strengthening its position as the world leading exporter of the super-chilled fuel.
An Eni spokesperson confirmed the company is participating in the bidding process. QP, Shell, Chevron, TotalEnergies, Conoco declined to comment.
Exxon said it did not comment on market rumors, but added: “We look forward to continuing success in future projects with our partners Qatar Petroleum and the State of Qatar. ExxonMobil affiliates are working with Qatar Petroleum to identify international joint venture opportunities that further enhance the portfolio of both.”
Leading energy companies see natural gas as a key fuel in the world’s efforts to cut carbon emissions and replace the more polluting coal, although the International Energy Agency said in a report last month that investments in new fossil fuel projects should stop immediately in order to meet UN-backed targets aimed at limiting global warming.
Activists say that expansion in natural gas delays a transition to renewable energy that is needed to meet UN-backed targets to battle climate change. The European Union is in the midst of a debate about what role gas should take in the energy transition.
The outlook for global LNG supplies tightened sharply in recent months after Total suspended its $20 billion LNG project in Mozambique due to a surge in violence.
It followed a string of delays of LNG projects in North America as COVID-19 hobbled demand last year.
Global LNG demand has increased every year since 2012 and hit record highs every year since 2015 mostly due to fast-rising demand in Asia. Analysts have said they expect global LNG demand will grow about 3-5 percent each year between 2021 and 2025.
Lower returns
The interest from companies in the Qatari expansion comes despite relatively low returns.
QP offered international bidders returns of around 8 percent to 10 percent on their investment, down from around 15 percent to 20 percent returns Exxon, Total, Shell and Conoco have seen from the early LNG facilities, according to sources in three companies involved.
Qatar project returns have never previously been disclosed.
The six companies and QP declined to comment on the terms of the bids.
“Clearly Qatar has become more competitive,” a source said. “But it remains very low risk from the resource perspective.”
The results of the tender process are not expected to be announced before September, two of the sources said.
In March, QP said it will take full ownership of Qatargas 1 LNG plant when its 25-year contract with international investors including Exxon and TotalEnergies expires next year, in a sign of its growing confidence.
Qatar is also in talks to make Chinese firms partners in the project, sources told Reuters last month.
QP last month hired international banks for a multi-billion dollar debut public bond sale by the end of June, two sources said, to help in part development the Northern Field project.


Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city
Updated 14 June 2021

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city

Cash will not be used in Saudi energy industry city
  • SPARK announced in March that 80 percent of the project’s first phase was officially complete

RIYADH: A new city being developed in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province will be cashless according to Riyad Bank CEO Tareq Al-Sahdan.
King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), located between Dammam and Al-Ahsa, is being built on an area of 50 square kilometers and will include a dedicated logistics zone and dry port. SPARK announced in March that 80 percent of the project’s first phase was officially complete.
A new agreement signed between Riyad Bank and the King Salman Energy City (SPARK) aims to fully transform the project into a fully digital city, Al-Sahdan told Al Arabiya.
“We aspire that Spark City will be completely digital, since it is a new city, where cash is not used, and there will be payment solutions for all uses and a special pass card used in shops and services,” he told Al Arabiya.
An agreement between the pair, which includes ten initiatives, aims to support the Kingdom’s ranking in ease of doing business and the digital economy.

 


Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy
Updated 14 June 2021

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy

Abu Dhabi’s ADIA said to review property strategy
  • ADIA may consider cutting its exposure to some troubled sectors, the sources said

RIYADH: The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), one of the world’s biggest property investors, is considering changes to its real estate strategy after some of its major holdings suffered during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported citing people with knowledge of the matter.
ADIA may consider cutting its exposure to some troubled sectors, the people said, asking not to be identified.
The state-owned sovereign wealth fund has been making more direct property investments in recent years, and has amassed just under $700 billion in assets, according to estimates from data provider Global SWF.
Real estate traditionally accounts for about 5 percent to 10 percent of that overall portfolio.
ADIA could shift its focus for future deals and increase exposure to areas like warehouses, life sciences properties, technology hubs and affordable housing, one of the people said.
The fund has also invested more in private equity investments, which have outperformed during the pandemic, the people said.
The review is ongoing, and ADIA hasn’t made any final decisions on the changes it will make, Bloomberg reported.


Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program
Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program

Saudi VC Sukna, Unifonic launches entrepreneurship program
  • The 14-week program, called Unifonic X, will provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures to further develop their business concepts

DUBAI: Saudi venture capital firm Sukna has partnered with Dubai-based Unifonic to host an entrepreneurship program in the Kingdom, the pair announced in a statement.
The 14-week program, called Unifonic X, will provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures to further develop their business concepts, as Saudi Arabia ramps up investment in its startup ecosystem.
About 30 participants will be chosen to join the program, which will be delivered in three phases. They will be teamed up to focus on 10 venture ideas.
The teams will then present their ideas to prospective partners, angel and institutional investors.
“Unifonic and Sukna have put together an impressive consortium of partners to help the founders succeed and graduate successful investible ventures,” Fares Bardeesi, founder of Sukna, said.
“Founders with or without ideas joining this program will go through a structured venture building program while having access to a network of market experts, mentors and advisers thus significantly improving their chances of success,” he added.
Unifonic X is modeled after the Global Innovation Catalyst Innovation Execution program, and gives participants access to Silicon Valley experiences and resources from top universities, the company claimed.
“By launching ‘Unifonic X’, we connect this generation of entrepreneurship with the needed skills and resources to lead and excel,” Saudi deputy minister for future jobs and entrepreneurship, Ahmed Altheneyan, said.
“We are doubling down our investment in emerging technologies and entrepreneurship through various incentives and an integrated ecosystem,” he added.


Lebanon currency hits new low

Lebanon currency hits new low
Updated 14 June 2021

Lebanon currency hits new low

Lebanon currency hits new low
  • Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for 10 months since the last one stepped down after a deadly port explosion in Beirut last summer

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s currency hit a new low against the dollar on the black market Monday, continuing its freefall in a country gripped by political deadlock, an economic crisis and increasing shortages.
The pound, officially pegged at 1,507 to the US dollar since 1997, was selling for 15,400 to 15,500 to the greenback on the black market, several money changers said.
After hovering around 15,000 to the dollar in mid-March, the unofficial exchange rate dropped to between 12,000 and 13,000 later that month before soaring back up in recent days.
The latest plunge means the pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the informal market since October 2019, in what the World Bank has called one of the worst financial crunches worldwide since the mid-19th century.
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for 10 months since the last one stepped down after a deadly port explosion in Beirut last summer.
Politicians from all sides have failed to agree on a line-up for a new cabinet even as foreign currency cash reserves plummet, causing fuel, electricity and medicine shortages.
In recent days, frustrated drivers have waited for hours in long car queues outside petrol stations to fill up their tanks.
Pharmacies went on strike on Friday and Saturday in protest at the central bank allegedly failing to provide them with dollars as a preferable exchange rate so they could continue working.
Electricity cuts have increased in length as the state struggles to secure enough fuel to operate power stations.
People earning salaries in Lebanese pounds have seen their purchasing power drastically reduced as they battle to keep up with price hikes.
The country, where more than half the population now live in poverty, is in desperate need of financial aid but the international community has conditioned any such assistance on the formation of a new government to launch sweeping reforms.