Official: firm at centre of cyberattack knew of problems

KIEV, Ukraine — The small Ukrainian tax software company that is accused of being the patient zero of a damaging global cyberepidemic is under investigation and will face charges, the head of Ukraine’s CyberPolice suggested Monday.

Col. Serhiy Demydiuk, the head of Ukraine’s national Cyberpolice unit, said in an interview with The Associated Press that Kyiv-based M.E. Doc’s employees had blown off repeated warnings about the security of their information technology infrastructure.

“They knew about it,” he told the AP at his office. “They were told many times by various anti-virus firms. … For this neglect, the people in this case will face criminal responsibility.”

Demydiuk and other officials say last week’s unusually disruptive cyberattack was mainly spread through a malicious update to M.E. Doc’s eponymous tax software program, which is widely used by accountants and businesses across Ukraine.

The malicious update, likely planted on M.E. Doc’s update server by a hacker, was then disseminated across the country before exploding into an epidemic of data-scrambling software that Ukrainian and several other multinational firms are still recovering from.

M.E. Doc has given various explanations for its role in the outbreak. It initially acknowledged having been hacked, but then deleted the statement . It then called allegations it had seeded the outbreak “clearly erroneous” but later said it was co-operating with authorities. The company has not returned messages from AP seeking comment.

Meanwhile, several companies hit by last week’s cyberattack say they are edging toward normalcy.

Law firm DLA Piper said late Sunday that it has restored its email service and was working to bring its other networks back online. Danish shipper A.P. Moller-Maersk said Monday it was that “getting closer to full speed” and that all but one cargo terminal was back in action. Russian companies were reportedly affected as well; Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft said Monday it had taken the company six days to fully repair its computer systems after they were badly hit in the cyberattack.

Ukrainian authorities have blamed Russia for masterminding the outbreak, although several independent experts say it’s too early, based on what’s publicly known, to come to any firm conclusions. Ukraine has repeatedly come under fire from high-powered cyberattacks tied to Moscow.

The extent of the damage and disruption in Ukraine was still unclear Monday. Authorities have yet to release an accounting of the number of victims or guess at the cost inflicted by the malware. Demydiuk said his service was still collating figures and declined to even provide estimates.

It’s clear, though, that the economic disruption has not been negligible. Some bank employees have not been to work in days. At Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport, senior airport official Yevhenii Dykhne told the AP that about a third of computers, mainly those devoted to back-office work such as procurement, were still offline.

Hanna Rybalka, who works at the state-owned Oschadbank’s headquarters in Kyiv, said that business had taken nearly a week to recover.

“Today is the first day of full-time work,” she said in a Facebook message Monday.

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