10 September 2021 | Asia Cyber Summary

In the spotlight this week:

  • New Zealand banks and post offices hit by outages in what seems to be a cyber attack

  • Singapore moves from preventing cyber threats to assuming breaches have occurred

  • FBI says Chinese authorities are hacking US-based Uyghurs

  • Germany protests to Russia over pre-election cyberattacks

  • ProtonMail logs activist's IP address with authorities after Swiss court order

New Zealand Banks And Post Offices Hit By Outages In What Seems To Be A Cyber Attack

Websites of a number of financial institutions in New Zealand and its national postal service were briefly down. Officials said they were battling a cyber attack. The country's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) said it was aware of a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack targeting a number of organisations in the country. CERT said on its website that it is "monitoring the situation” and “working with affected parties where we can”. Some of the websites affected by the attack, according to local media reports, included the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group's (ANZ.AX) New Zealand site and NZ Post. ANZ told customers it was aware some of them were not able to access online banking services. "Our tech team are working hard to get this fixed, we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause”, the post said. NZ Post said the "intermittent disruptions" on its website were due to an issue at one of its third-party suppliers. Several customers resorted to social media to report outages at Kiwibank, a small lender partly owned by the NZ Post.

Singapore Has Moved From Preventing Cyber Threats To Assuming Breaches Have Occurred

With cyber security being a “wicked” problem that cannot be solved for good, Singapore decided to shift its position from preventing threats to assuming information technology systems have already been breached. Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo told world leaders at a meeting in Estonia that this stance means there is a need for constant vigilance and monitoring. During her trip, Singapore agreed to team up with Estonia to work on digital areas such as cyber security and help companies to go digital. Singapore and Estonia will also participate in operations related to cyber threats. They will support the digitalization of their small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as mid-capitalization companies. Estonia is interested in Asia and sees Singapore as a gateway for its businesses. She added that global cooperation on digital developments, such as those covered during the Estonia meeting, are significant. For instance, Singapore is discussing with other countries the requirements for future technology - such as 6G mobile networks - so it can plan for its own infrastructure needs.

FBI Says Chinese Authorities Are Hacking US-based Uyghurs

The FBI has warned that the Chinese government is using both in-person and digital techniques to intimidate, silence and harass US-based Uyghur Muslims. The Chinese government has long been accused of human rights abuses over its treatment of the Uyghur population and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang region. More than a million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps, according to the United Nations Human Rights committee, and many other Uyghurs have been targeted and hacked by state-backed cyber attacks. China has repeatedly denied the claims. The FBI highlighted four instances of US-based individuals facing harassment. In one case from June, the Chinese government imprisoned dozens of family members of six US-based Uyghur journalists in retaliation for their continued reporting on China and its repression of Uyghurs for the US government-funded news service Radio Free Asia.

Germany Protests To Russia Over Pre-Election Cyber Attacks

Germany has protested to Russia over attempts to steal data from lawmakers in what it suspects may have been preparation to spread disinformation before the upcoming German election. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse said that a hacker called Ghostwriter has been “combining conventional cyberattacks with disinformation and influence operations”, and that activities targeting Germany have been observed “for some time”. She said that there have been attempts - using phishing emails, among other techniques— to get hold of the personal login details of federal and state lawmakers, with the aim of identity theft. “These attacks could serve as preparations for influence operations such as disinformation campaigns connected with the parliamentary election”, she told reporters in Berlin. In the September 26th vote, Germany will elect a new parliament that will determine who succeeds Merkel. The German Chancellor is not seeking another term for the first time after nearly 16 years in charge. The outcome is wide open, with polls showing the main parties fairly close together.

ProtonMail Logs Activist's IP Address With Authorities After Swiss Court Order

End-to-end encrypted email service provider ProtonMail has drawn criticism after it ceded to a legal request and shared the IP address of anti-gentrification activists with law enforcement authorities, leading to their arrests in France. The Switzerland-based company said it received a "legally binding order from the Swiss Federal Department of Justice" related to a collective called Youth for Climate, which it was "obligated to comply with”, compelling it to handover the IP address and information related to the type of device used by the group to access the ProtonMail account. On its website, ProtonMail advertises that: "No personal information is required to create your secure email account. By default, we do not keep any IP logs which can be linked to your anonymous email account. Your privacy comes first”. Despite its no IP logs claims, the company acknowledged that while it is illegal for the company to abide by requests from non-Swiss law enforcement authorities, it is required to do so if Swiss agencies agree to assist foreign services - such as Europol - in their investigations.

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