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30th Jul 2021

Hackers break into OECD computer system

  • OECD ministerial meeting. The body's spokesman said: 'What we know is it's quite a sophisticated attack' (Photo: oecd.org)

The OECD, the Paris-based club of the world's 33 richest countries, has been successfully hacked by people looking for sensitive information on money laundering, high-level corruption and tax evasion.

OECD spokesman Stephen Di Biasio told EUobserver by phone from France on Thursday (4 November) that the body first detected "unusual" activity in its IT network in August and is still battling to get malware out of its computers three months later despite calling in help from the French security services and private cyber-defence companies.

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"We've got a team trying to close down their points of entry, but we're not in a position today to say we've cleared them out of our system," he said.

"What we know is it's quite a sophisticated attack. We've got quite high levels of security protocols at the OECD and this has been able to bypass those security measures ... What we are seeing is that it's not a destructive attack. It's obviously fishing for information. Because the OECD works in such a broad array of areas, they are searching around to see what they can get."

Mr Di Biasio said the malware appears to have got in via a USB memory stick and that the attacks are coming from "different geographical areas, quite a few points in Asia." He was unable to say if the assault involves a government or a private entity.

"The suspicion is it came in via USB keys. Our agents travel around the world. They often go to conferences - there are exchanges of information, exchanges of USB keys."

The OECD describes itself as a body which "brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy." It collects economic data and conducts inter-governmental talks on issues including high-level government and corporate corruption, money laundering and tax evasion. Its members include 20 EU countries, as well as Canada, Israel, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey and the US.

News of the hack first came out in the specialist, Paris-based publication Intelligence Online on Wednesday, one day before a major EU cyber-security exercise.

The EU simulation, Cyber Europe 2010, is being organised by Enisa, the EU's Crete-based information security agency, and the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's science wing in Brussels. Modeled on the larger US exercise, Operation Cyber Storm III, launched earlier this year, the EU project is billed as the first-ever pan-European effort of its type.

The exercise began at 10am Brussels time on Thursday and is to last until the evening of the same day. It consists of attempts to install and block fake malware on "critical online services" by around 130 experts sitting at their computers in an operations centre in Crete and in remote locations around Europe.

The exercise involves 20 EU countries plus Norway and Switzerland. EU member states Bulgaria, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Spain, as well as non-EU country Iceland, are taking part as observers. The UK's Office of Cyber Security and CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team in Estonia, are among those at the heart of the exercise.

"We will have electronic elections in March, so we have also been conducting our own internal exercises concerning that," CERT spokeswoman Katrin Pargmae told this website.

Commenting on the outcome of Thursday's experiment, Enisa spokesman Ulf Bergrstrom noted: "If we do find holes and gaps in procedures and channels we will firstly need to plug these holes before we can reveal where they need to be plugged."

Asked if Nato was involved in this simulation, since it is active in the field of cyber defence, Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for the EU commission said: "No. This is the first time such an exercise is being organised, but in future we may look at more complex scenarios."

The European Commission in September proposed a new law to put hackers in jail for up to five years and to give Enisa new powers to fight internet crime.

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