Nunavut government trying to get back online after weekend ransomware attack

If you’re trying to reach the government of Nunavut today, don’t send an email.

Crucial Nunavut government services from health to justice were still impaired Monday after a weekend cyberattack locked out civil servants from access to electronic information.

And it could stay down for some time.

“We are working non-stop to resolve this issue,” said Premier Joe Savikataaq in a release. “Essential services will not be impacted and the (government) will continue to operate while we work through this issue.”

On Saturday night, the government was the victim of a ransomware attack. The program encrypted individual files on various servers and work stations, and locked out regular users.

It then encrypts all of your information, and offers you a chance to pay a ransom to get it back.

“It is a new one they haven’t seen up to this point,” said Ted Hickey, director of government information and planning. “So we’re trying to figure out where it originated from, and how we go about stopping it in our environment right now and preventing any new infections.”

All government services requiring access to electronic information stored on computers were affected.

Voice mail wasn’t working. Nor were government email accounts.

“The department of health is our number one priority for sure, and getting the Meditech system up and running not only here in Iqaluit, but in all the health centres across the territory,” said Dean Wells, corporate chief information officer for Nunavut. After that, finance is pretty high up on that list as well, so people can get their paycheques and so vendoras can get paid.”

Personal information doesn’t appear to have been leaked in the attack, officials said. Rather than distributing private data, ransomware prevents users from getting their own information and demands a ransom to restore access.

While offices were functioning, the public was being warned services would take longer to provide.

Technical staff were working on data access and said most files would be restored using existing up-to-date backups.

The territory was unable to estimate when computer systems would be up and running.

“There will likely be some delays as we get back online,” Savikataaq said.

Nunavut schools are supposed to send report cards home this week. Those files aren’t being held ransom but teachers are using their own internet or alternate providers to access those files.

Patients are being asked to bring their health card and their  medications when they go to the hospital there might not be as much access to medical history without a network connection.

The timing could have been much worse. Payday for the territorial government’s 6,000 employees was Friday, the attack hit Saturday.

The government is telling some partners that it could be eight days until they get their network back.

They have received a ransom note – that’s part of the virus. But they haven’t asked for a dollar figure and are not going to pay.

“We don’t know if we paid the ransom, would we get our passwords that we need to open them up,” said Wells.

“If so, what’s going to stop these folks from coming back and trying this again.”

The government of Nunavut said they have plans for this and each department has its own steps to take in the case of network failure.

Over the next days, or even weeks, those plans are going to be tested.

-with files from the Canadian Press


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