Increasing Hacker Attacks and Ransom Demand in Developing Countries! | Politics and Economics | In-depth analysis with a broader perspective from DW | DW

It only took a few weeks for the so-called cybercriminals in Costa Rica to plunge the country into chaos.

This incident dates back to last April, when hackers gained control of the computer systems of the Ministry of Finance in Costa Rica, where they demanded that the authorities pay a ransom estimated at millions to get the computer systems working again.

However, the government refused to bow to the demands of the hackers, who retaliated by crippling the electronic systems of nearly 30 government agencies. This has had serious consequences for the country’s population, from disrupted tax systems, delayed payment of duties for outgoing goods and goods including fruit, and even employees not being paid.

The situation worsened in early May, prompting the newly elected president of Costa Rica to declare a state of emergency in the first of its kind where a state of emergency has been declared in a country due to a cyber attack.

The government managed to stop the attacks and bring things back to normal, but four months later the authorities have not been able to repair all the damage caused by the attacks.

In it, Diego Gonzalez, head of the cyber security branch of the Chamber of Information and Communication Technology in Costa Rica, said that this attack “is a wake-up call for us and warns us about the danger of being exposed to cyber attacks. not only by the government and its institutions, but by society as a whole.”

In May, Costa Rica declared a state of emergency to counter ransomware attacks that have been rampant in the country for months

From Latin America to Africa and Asia

The cyberattack in Costa Rica highlights that cyberattacks are increasing at an alarming rate as they increasingly target government agencies and public institutions in middle-income and developing countries in the global south.

In this context, pirates succeeded in paralyzing the legal system in the Argentine city of Cordoba, and a month before, pirates succeeded in disrupting the flood control system in the Indian state of Goa. In Zambia, a cyber attack earlier this year caused a power outage within the central bank.

There is no doubt about the increasing number of ransomware victims in countries of the Global South, said Anna Chung, a cybersecurity researcher at the Palo Alto Networks, a leading information security company.

Alan Liska, a cybersecurity analyst at Recorded Future, agrees and confirms that the company is noticing an increase in attacks in South Asian countries, while the targets are government institutions and large organizations.

However, it is not just Asia and Latin America that the danger extends to African countries, according to Joy Jansen van Vuuren, head of computer science at the Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa. “Ransomware has become a cybercrime that negatively affects governments and companies,” she says.

 The port of Durban in South Africa

A cyber attack last year caused chaos in the vital port of Durban in South Africa

tip of the iceberg

It is worth noting that ransomware attacks are somewhat similar. First, the hackers infiltrate the target party’s computer network and then search for important and sensitive data to force the victims to pay a ransom.

Victims are left with two bitter choices: the first is to pay the ransom in the hope that the hackers will maintain the integrity of the data; The other option is to refuse to pay the ransom and try to restore the targeted systems through backup copies, as in the case of Costa Rica.

However, experts say this is only the tip of the iceberg, as victims in most cases have to pay a ransom in what has become common in some countries of the Global South.

Organizations often have no choice but to pay the ransom, says Charlett Donalds, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. “Sometimes a portion of the budget is set aside to pay a ransom because they expect to be attacked at some point. .”

Donalds, who has written a book on cybercrime in countries in the southern hemisphere, notes an increase in ransomware attacks in the Caribbean, particularly on tax authorities’ websites.

Corlene Barclay, a cyber security expert and co-author of the book, emphasizes that attackers often find easy targets, adding that many governments and institutions have spent less on cyber security as they transition to digitization.

For his part, Alan Liska emphasizes that this is the reason why these attacks are so common in countries of the Global South because hackers know that “they can find systems that are easy to hack”.

The entrance to Heredia Hospital in Costa Rica

Nearly 1,000 hospitals and clinics in Costa Rica were affected by ransomware attack

Against ransomware?

As a result, questions have been raised about the measures developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America can take to protect themselves from ransomware attacks.

Researchers are unanimous in the need for governments to strengthen cyber security measures and invest in cyber security training, in addition to the need to enact information security legislation to oblige companies and public institutions to protect their systems against any cyber security to protect. attacks; Especially in countries that don’t have cyber security laws.

The researchers add that international cooperation in this area should be strengthened, citing the “anti-ransomware” initiative launched by the US government last year. The US initiative includes 30 countries, including seven countries located in the southern hemisphere.

Anti-ransomware measures also include raising awareness among the population about cyber security, because the harm is not only to governments and companies, but also to ordinary citizens.

Costa Rica is proof of this, as a month after a state of emergency was declared, another group of hackers managed to target the website of the country’s main public health authority, preventing thousands of patients from getting appointments to see doctors see.

In this, Diego Gonzalez, head of the cyber security branch of the Chamber of Information and Communication Technology in Costa Rica, says that in this case “people realized that these attacks could affect their families and children,” and expressed the hope that it would spur. the authorities to make long-term investments Term in the field of cyber security.

But he said this approach would not happen anytime soon, adding: “We live in the age of cyber attacks and what we have been exposed to recently is just the beginning.”

Janusz Delker / MA

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