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Pacific News Minute: Cyberattack on Vanuatu is a warning sign for other nations

A computer programmer prints a code on a laptop keyboard.
Rapeepong Puttakumwong
Getty Images
A computer programmer prints a code on a laptop keyboard.

A cyberattack in Vanuatu brought down government servers and websites more than a month ago. This caused officials to use private email accounts, personal laptops, typewriters, and even pen and paper to run the government.

The malware attack on state networks has caused delays in communication in the Pacific Island nation of 314,000 people and 80 islands.

The Guardian reports it took place on Oct. 30, a few days before the country’s new prime minister, Ishmael Kalsakau, was sworn into office.

The problems started in Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila when suspicious phishing activity was first noticed in emails to the Ministry of Finance. That’s according to a financial analyst who works closely with the ministry’s cybersecurity teams.

The malware crashed nearly all government email and website archives. Many departments were still using local computer drives to store data, as opposed to web servers or the cloud.

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reports that the hackers had demanded a ransom, which the government refused to pay.

People resorted to the online Yellow Pages or the hard copy phone book to find phone numbers. Some offices were using their Facebook pages and Twitter.

The attack did not crash civilian infrastructure, such as airline or hotel websites.

Cyberattacks have devastated IT systems around the world in recent years — and security experts say the one on Vanuatu is a warning sign about the vulnerability of other small nations across the Pacific.

Derrick Malama is the local anchor of Morning Edition.
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