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Private Employers Are Cyber-Targeted By State Actors: What Steps Can You Take?

A recent cyberattack disrupted the printing and distribution of several high-profile newspapers.

The cybercriminals, who experts believe are foreign, infected Tribune Publishing's printing press with malware. The press prints a number of newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, as well as the West Coast editions of the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. As a result, printing and distribution of these papers and others were delayed.

The purpose of the attack appears to have been to disable servers, rather than to steal information. The malware affected "back-office systems used to publish and produce newspapers."

The same weekend, malware shut down production of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and interrupted its phone lines.

The Department of Homeland Security is investigating the attacks. "Cyber-attack disrupts distribution of multiple US newspapers" bbc.com (Dec. 30, 2018).


A likely scenario is that the government actor targeted a specific employee of one of the publishers via some research on social media or even based on information on the publisher’s own site. Once a target was selected, the government actor poised as a legitimate contact known to the target; sent an email with an attachment that looked and sounded familiar to the target; and the target bit on it by downloading an attachment. The attachment quickly loaded spyware on the recipient’s hard drive. From that, the government criminals were able to access the person’s contact list and send out more directed emails to other employees with spyware until the criminals had penetrated far enough to take down the operation with malware designed to disable a system.  

This type of cybercrime is well-planned and specifically contrived to penetrate an employer’s system.

So, how can other employers prevent the same type of risk to their system?

First, install security software, including anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall on all computers and devices. Set security software, internet browsers, and operating systems on all computers and devices to update automatically.

Train employees to never select links or open attachments sent in emails unless they are expecting the link or attachment, and they are certain that the link or attachment is legitimate.

Even if the email is sent from someone they know, an online criminal could have accessed the person’s email account. Verify that the actual sender sent the actual email, using a method other than information contained in the email.

Require employees to back-up their data regularly and to use unique, strong, and long passwords on all work devices and accounts.

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