The government of Costa Rica declared a state of emergency this week after a massive ransomware attack locked down computer networks across multiple government agencies, paralyzing tax collection and leaving the private information of Costa Rican citizens vulnerable.
According to the emergency declaration, the crisis began on April 12 with a “strong cyberattack on the databases of the Costa Rican Ministry of Finance.”
The attack spread to the “databases of other institutions” from there, becoming a major threat to national security. The Costa Rican statement said the full extent of the attack was not yet known.
NBC News reported on Wednesday that a notorious and highly destructive international ransomware gang called Conti appears to be responsible for the attack, having published documents pilfered from Costa Rican government computers to its dark website on Sunday.
The data dump posted by Conti is about 672 gigabytes in size and purportedly includes information stolen from the Finance Ministry, Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Social Development and Family Allowances Fund, and Interuniversity Headquarters of Alajuela. The hackers said they published the data after Costa Rica refused to pay $10 million in ransom.
Conti’s members appear to be mostly Russian and Eastern European. The group pledged allegiance to the Russian state when the invasion of Ukraine began. Its previous crimes include a $20 million ransomware attack on the Health Service Executive of Ireland and a failed attempt to breach dozens of American healthcare systems.
A Ukrainian cybersecurity expert claimed in February to have hacked Conti itself, exposing a trove of alleged chat messages and other correspondence between group members.
Costa Rica’s former finance minister Rodrigo Chaves speaks to supporters at his headquarters in San Jose, Costa Rica, after winning a presidential runoff election, Sunday, April 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
These messages indicated, if authentic, that Conti has ties to Russia’s FSB security service and its military hacking units, but seems to have an identity distinct from the Russian government — the group is willing and eager to work on Russia’s behalf, and apparently believes Russian agents would help if they got into legal trouble, but is not directly controlled by the Kremlin.
The Conti hacker who posted the data dump included a message stating, “no organized team was created for this attack, no government or other countries has finalized this attack, everything was carried out by me with a successful affiliate.”
“The purpose of this attack was to earn money, in the future I will definitely carry out attacks of a more serious format with a larger team, Costa Rica is a demo version,” the hacker said.
The state of emergency was declared by Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves, who was just sworn in on Sunday.
“We’ve signed the decree so the country can defend against the criminal attack that cyber criminals are carrying out. This is an assault on the nation and we have signed this decree to help us defend ourselves better,” Chaves said.
Cybersecurity site ThreatPost noted the Costa Rica attack, like most of Conti’s alleged recent jobs, employed a “double-extortion” strategy of threatening to release stolen data if the ransom was not paid.
Classic ransomware attacks encrypt the data without stealing it, demanding a ransom from the victim to obtain the software keys needed to unlock their own system. Ransomware has proven fearsomely lucrative because targeted corporate and government targets often conclude paying the ransom is cheaper, and much faster, than hiring experts to decrypt the data and free their captured systems.
Cyberdefense analyst Roger Grimes told ThreatPost that no matter what Conti chooses to dump on its dark web site, the group probably has “every employee’s personal login credentials to any Costa Rican government site that they visited during the time the ransomware was active on the system before it locked files.”
“If Costa Rica was hosting customer-facing websites in the compromised domains, like they likely were, their customers’ credentials – which are often reused on other sites and services the customers visit – are likely compromised, too. Not paying the ransom puts not only Costa Rica’s own services at risk, but those of their employees and customers,” Grimes said.
Security engineer Silas Cutler of the Stairwell security firm described Costa Rica’s state of emergency as a pivotal moment, an “important rallying call to the rest of the world.”
“While the emergency status may have a limited direct impact… it puts the severity of this breach into the same category as a natural disaster or military incident,” Cutler said.
The U.S. State Department last week posted a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification and location of Conti group leaders, plus another $5 million for information leading to the arrest of “any individual in any country conspiring to participate in or attempting to participate in a Conti variant ransomware incident.”
The State Department cited the ransomware attack on Costa Rica as a prime reason for offering the bounty under its Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program (TOCRP).
“In offering this reward, the United States demonstrates its commitment to protecting potential ransomware victims around the world from exploitation by cyber criminals. We look to partner with nations willing to bring justice for those victims affected by ransomware,” the State Department said.
Former Goldman CEO Warns of Potential Recession: ‘Very, Very High Risk Factor’
Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein warned the United States could plunge into a recession.
“Do you think we’re headed towards recession?” @margbrennan asks Goldman Sachs Senior Chairman Lloyd Blankfein amid U.S. inflation.
“It’s definitely a risk…If I were a consumer, I’d be prepared for it, but it’s not baked in the cake.” pic.twitter.com/IehxU4wSo6
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 15, 2022
A transcript is as follows:
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think we’re headed towards recession?
LLOYD BLANKFEIN: We’re certainly heading — it’s a very, very high risk factor. There’s a path, a narrow path, but I think the Fed has very powerful tools. It’s hard to finely tune them and hard to see the effects of them quickly enough to alter it. But I think they are responding well. It’s definitely a risk. If I was running a big company I would be very prepared for it. If I was a consumer, I would prepared for it. But it’s not baked in the cake.
White House Claims Baby Formula Shortage a Top Priority Since February After Joe Biden Claimed Ignorance of Problem
The White House claimed President Joe Biden’s administration made the baby formula shortage crisis a top priority as early as February, even though the president claimed ignorance of the problem on Thursday.
“This is something he is focusing on very acutely and again I said 24/7 we’ve been working on this since we have learned about this back in February,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during the daily briefing about Biden, calling the issue “one of the presidents top priorities.”
Biden bristled when asked by reporters on Friday if he could have acted sooner to fix the crisis.
“If we had been better mind readers, I guess we could’ve, but we moved as the problem became apparent to us,” Biden said.
The president did not even personally mention the crisis until Friday, despite weeks of reports highlighting the problem.
“I’ll answer the baby formula question because, all of a sudden, it’s on the front page of every newspaper,” Biden grumbled on Friday.
He announced the launch of a new government website to help parents locate baby formula in stores, but it was beset by extremely long hold times and unhelpful information.
Jean-Pierre alluded to a comment from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra claiming the Biden administration had been working on the issue since February and even as early as last year in 2021.
CNN: “You are satisfied with the government’s response throughout [the baby formula shortage]?”
HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra: “FDA has kept me apprised of this from LAST YEAR. We have been moving as quickly as we can” pic.twitter.com/5WRZa5chYg
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) May 16, 2022
“You’ve heard us talk about this, you’ve heard colleagues talking about what we have done since February,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve been working on this 24/7.”
Jean-Pierre refused to offer a timeline for when supplies of baby formula would return to normal.
“What I can say is there are a lot of dates floating around out there,” she said.
Joe Biden Botches Name of Hero Killed in Buffalo Shooting Aaron Salter Jr.
President Joe Biden struggled Monday with the correct pronunciation of the name of Aaron Salter Jr., a heroic ex-cop and security guard who died Saturday confronting the Buffalo mass shooting suspect.
“We pay tribute to all law enforcement officers and their families who understand what it takes, what’s at risk, to save and protect all of us,” Biden said. “That includes paying tribute to the Buffalo police officer Aaron Salder — Slater, excuse me — who gave his life trying to save others.”
Biden spoke about Salter during a Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor ceremony at the White House for law enforcement and public safety officials.
Salter was a Buffalo police officer for 30 years before retiring in 2022 and taking a security job at the Tops Friendly Market where the shooting took place.
Salter hit the alleged shooter with at least one round from his pistol, but it was blocked by the alleged shooter’s bulletproof armor. Salter was later shot and killed during the attack.
“You’re the heart and soul and very spine of this country and communities,” Biden continued, praising the public safety officials in the room.
During the ceremony, Biden also botched the name of Rep. Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat congressman from New York.
“Excuse me. You can call me ‘Bidden,’” Biden joked, mispronouncing his own name. “We’ve known each other so long and I still stumbled. I apologize.”
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