ASCO Sends Workers Home After Ransomware Attack

A ransomware attack on one of the world’s largest suppliers of aeroplane parts, has caused it to cease production in factories across four countries.

ASCO Industries based in Belgium, has also reportedly had to send home the vast majority of its workforce after the ransomware attack last Friday (7 June).

In March this year a ransomware attack crippled the operations of large Norwegian manufacturing firm Norsk Hydro. The company estimated that it lost more than $40m in the week following that attack.

Ransomware attack

And now ASCO has become the latest firm to be impacted by ransomware, although the company is not at the moment saying anything officially about the attack.

ASCO has offices and production centres in Belgium, Germany, Canada, the US, and offices in Brasil and France.

According to VRT, the police has been notified, and the firm has brought in external experts to investigate.

The company has apparently ceased production in all of its production centres, but it has not confirmed whether the ransomware has spread to those systems, or whether the move was simply a way to stop the ransomware spreading.

Other media reports suggest the firm has sent home 1,000 of its total 1,400 workforce.

It is also not clear at this stage whether ASCO is paying the hackers, or whether it is trying to recover its systems via backups.

Dangerous power

Security experts were quick to highlight the dangers posed by ransomware attacks.

“The attack against ASCO has once again highlighted the dangerous power of ransomware,” said Andrea Carcano, CPO of co-founder of Nozomi Network. “The attack has brought operations to a halt and resulted in over a thousand employees being sent home which will be having a significant impact on the organisation financially.”

“When it comes to ransomware, prevention is always better than cure as, if infected, it is never advisable to pay the ransom as it is not guaranteed that the criminals will honour the agreement and restore systems/data,” said Carcano. “Organisations should prepare for these types of events and have an incident response plan in place to help limit the damage caused, not only to production but also to customer trust and brand reputation.”

This point was echoed by another expert who said that businesses have to prepare to be targetted by cyber criminals, and he noted the secretative way that ASCO is dealing with the attack.

“Airplane manufacturer ASCO being hit by ransomware continues the trend of cybercriminals focusing their efforts on industry and manufacturing as their targets – recognizing the costly and disruptive effect such a shutdown will have on the business,” explained Shlomie Liberow, technical program manager at HackerOne.

“This comes only a few months after Norsk Hydro was also shut down by ransomware – however, Norsk showed the world that while ransomware is costly and devastating in the moment, it doesn’t have to have a lasting effect on reputation as the open and transparent way Norsk dealt with the attack resulted in a rise in share price,” said Liberow.

“Public understanding of ransomware is on the rise so if ASCO reacts quickly and in a way that keeps relevant stakeholders informed, hopefully it will see no lasting damage to reputation,” Liberow said.

Another expert agreed that ransomware is a growing risk.

“Ransomware continues to be a growing risk for many companies and once inside a network, unless there are controls in place to prevent the spread, it can take hold of the entire infrastructure rapidly,” said Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4.

“It’s worth remembering that in most cases, the initial infection is through a phishing or spearphishing email, therefore it is important to train users and make them aware of the risks, so they can make better-informed decisions, and also escalate any potential issues where they may arise,” said Malik.

Ransomware scourge

Whatever the experts may say, in April a study from Appriver revealed a worrying admission about the actions of companies after they are struck with a ransomware attack.

It found that more than half of executives (55 percent) at small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the US said they would pay hackers to recover their stolen data in ransomware attacks.

This directly contradicts the advice of nearly all security professionals, who urge firms not to pay but instead invest money in improving cyber defences and eduction, as well as ensuring that regular backups are carried out.

But it is not just companies that can be impacted by ransomware. The most famous case in recent years was probably the Wannacry ransomware scourge that infected computers around the world in 2017.

More recently, the east coast American city of Baltimore is slowly recovering after most of its computers and IT infrastructure were crippled after a devastating ransomware attack.

The cyber attack struck Baltimore’s computers on 7 May, and nearly a month later, most online city services and 10,000 computers remained crippled. That said, the city is now slowing recovering its systems.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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