Hackers hit PNG financial hub, fail in bid to hold state officials to ransom

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Vulupindi Haus, Port Moresby
Vulupindi Haus, PNG government's financial hub in Port Moresby ... state security put at risk. Image: EMTV News screenshot

By Gorethy Kenneth in Port Moresby

The Papua New Guinea government’s financial hub was hit by computer hackers last week, holding state officials at ransom, reports have revealed.

The ransomware attack on the Department of Finance’s Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) happened last Thursday, locking out government workers who use the system to run the country’s entire financial system.

The Acting Treasurer, Finance Minister Sir John Pundari, confirmed the hacking but told the PNG Post-Courier that the system had been restored and no ransom was paid.

Sir John said workers were using a temporary accounting system after the IFMS was hit last week but did not reveal the real extent of the damage, saying only that the hackers did not steal anything.

However, they had damaged a system that now puts PNG’s national security at risk.

This is the first time the country’s central financial hub has been hit to such an extent.

Ransomware is a collection of malicious software variants, including viruses, designed by hackers to cause extensive damage or gain unauthorised access to computer networks.

‘Cyber-attack on core server’
“The Government Financial System suffered a cyber-attack in the form of ransomware infiltrating our core server at 1am on Friday, 22 of October 2021,” Sir John said.

“As a result of the ransomware infiltration, the Department of Finance’s IT network was compromised. The department immediately took precautionary steps by closing down the network systems.

“The department has now managed to fully restore the system, however, because of the risk we are playing it safe by not allowing full usage of the affected network.

“While we progress cleaning up the server environment, we have put in temporary measures.

“These include all government departments and agencies having access to commit and process cheques using a controlled environment in Vulupindi Haus.

“All provinces and districts will also have access to commit funds, through a controlled temporary arrangement.

‘Full restored’
“The department is conscious of the security and integrity of its data, thus, restoration of services to all government agencies, including at the sub-national level will be done gradually, bearing in mind the security of individual networks, so as not to compromise or allow any further spread of this malware or other viruses.

“At this stage I wish to state clearly that the government financial system has been fully restored.

“Department of Finance did not pay any ransom to the hacker or any of its third party agents. We have managed to restore normalcy.

“The government and the people of Papua New Guinea can be assured that the government’s financial services will continue as usual.”

Gorethy Kenneth is a senior PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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