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GNWT blocks Government of Nunavut emails after cyber attack

The Government of the Northwest Territories has blocked all emails from the Government of Nunavut after a recent ransomware attack knocked out the latter’s services.

“The GNWT has blocked all emails on the advice of the Government of Nunavut and Canada’s Cyber Centre,” spokesperson Todd Sasaki wrote to Yellowknifer over email. “A notice was sent (last Wednesday) out to all GNWT employees advising them that emails would be blocked until the Government of Nunavut advises that it has addressed the situation.”

The email sent to GNWT employees advises contacting their Nunavut counterparts by phone or fax. It asks employees to be vigilant while opening attachments and links, while confirming these were intended messages from the sender.

In his email, Sasaki said the government “constantly monitors for suspicious activity and is prepared to do whatever is needed to protect the information in our custody and control.”
This caution should extend to all residents potentially receiving Government of Nunavut emails, according to Gabe Powless, owner of Yellowknife’s Raven Web Services, of which NNSL Media is a client.

When someone uses a computer or other device connected to the affected network, it increases the possibility of phishing, or other attacks. That essentially spreads the problem, according to Powless.

“If you’re not really cautious and you, say, answer their email, you might actually be redirecting (to) some links that brings you a page that takes credentials,” Powless said.

While ostensibly filling in your personal information, you’re actually handing it off to the attackers. Consequently, Powless said to be skeptical of all electronic communications from GN addresses.

The (Government of Nunavut’s) system obviously is completely corrupted, meaning they lost control of the database. Even though they could likely still access it, it’s not under their complete control,” he said.

Powless explained the governments of both Nunavut and NWT were vulnerable to an attack. The use of older technology means their web security often isn’t upgraded at the speed standards require.

“The Government of Nunavut was following the trend that the Government of Northwest Territories was following. (That) is, fix it when it comes up, or wait until it’s an issue,” he said. “That’s a poor way of doing security, especially in this day and age because cyber attacks are super-common.”

Stored data, especially among large entities like governments, is a “massive target” for bad actors, he said. After an attack, governments tend to pay for the cleanup of the damage done by the hackers, but not the actual ransom. Powless said doing so could act as an incentive for future bad actors.

He said “it would be way cheaper to be proactive and do some preventative maintenance.” That means following best practices, such as keeping a website’s code updated.
Being in the information technology industry, Powless said he couldn’t help but laugh when the GN’s network was targetted.

“It was like everyone sees it coming except for the people making the decisions.”