Costa Rica, a North American country, was attacked by Conti ransomware, a large number of systems in multiple ministries were affected and a large number of sensitive data were stolen.
The Ministry of Finance of Colombia was the most severely affected. The theft of taxpayer information caused public panic, and systems such as taxation and customs were paralyzed for several days, resulting in heavy losses in the country’s export business, at least US$200 million.
The Colombian president said the attackers were trying to destabilize the country, alluding to Russia. However, some security experts believe that this is just an ordinary money extortion, simply because the country’s system has too many loopholes.
In the past week, a ransomware attack has paralyzed the computer system of the government of the Republic of Costa Rica (hereinafter referred to as “Costa”) in the North American country (located in Central America). The Colombian government has refused to pay the ransom and is trying to prepare for the potential fallout as malicious hackers begin releasing stolen data.
Conti, a Russian-based ransomware gang, has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Costa Rican government has yet to issue an announcement on the details.
The Ministry of Finance was the worst affected, with systems paralyzed and taxpayer information stolen
The Colombian Ministry of Finance first reported the cyber attack on Monday (April 18). From the collection of taxes and fees to customs exports, many systems under the Treasury Department were affected by the attack. Malicious hackers then targeted other targets, including the Social Security Department’s human resources system and the Department of Labor.
The attack shut down for hours the Treasury Department’s payment system, which covers most of the country’s public officials and also handles government pension payments. The Treasury Department had to approve tax deferrals as payment services were not working properly.
The Conti gang did not disclose the exact amount of the ransom. There were rumors on social media that the hacker gang offered $10 million, but there was no corresponding evidence on the Conti gang website.
“Costa Rica will never pay any ransom to cybercriminals,” said Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvardao.
Colombian Finance Minister Elian Villegas said on Wednesday (April 20) that hackers accessed “sensitive” taxpayer history information after breaching the finance ministry’s customs platform, without specifying the amount of data leaked.
Colombian companies fear that classified information submitted to the government could be accessed by hacker gangs and then disclosed or misused. Ordinary citizens worry that their personal financial information could be used to hack into their bank accounts.
Platforms such as tax and customs have been suspended for more than 4 days, resulting in heavy losses in export business
According to a Reuters report on April 22, some platforms, including tax and customs, suspended operations for the fourth consecutive day, causing bottlenecks in imports and exports. The Costa Rican Exporters’ Chamber reported a loss of $200 million on Wednesday.
Christian Rucavado, executive director of the chamber, said cyberattacks against customs agencies had already affected the country’s import and export logistics. The goods stranded in the cold storage are slowly decaying. This is a race against time, and the specific economic loss cannot be determined for the time being. Trading operations continue, but at a much slower pace than usual.
Rucavado explained, “Many processes can only be done manually now, and there are delays in work at many border agencies. We have asked the government to take relevant remedial measures, such as extending working hours to ensure that imports and exports are completed in a timely manner.”
He also mentioned that Costa Rica normally exports goods worth $38 million a day.
Attacker with Russian background carried out double extortion
Allan Liska, an analyst at threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, said the Conti gang is carrying out a double extortion: encrypting government documents to disrupt the normal operations of various departments; if no ransom is received, the team publishes the stolen documents on the dark web for extortion sites.
The first point can be solved if these systems have good backups, Liska said, but if the stolen data is highly sensitive, it could be a big problem.
Liska revealed that the Conti gang often rents out its ransomware infrastructure to any “affiliate gang” willing to pay, so the real person behind the attack could come from anywhere in the world.
A year ago, the Conti ransomware attack forced Irish health authorities to shut down IT systems and cancel a large number of appointments, treatments and surgeries.
At the end of February this year, the Conti gang claimed support for Russia in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The move angered an underground hacker sympathetic to Ukraine, a security researcher who claimed to have been monitoring the movements of the Conti gang for a long time, and released a large amount of sensitive data such as Conti’s internal chat records and codes.
President says attackers are trying to destabilize country, security experts think it’s just money extortion
As the country with the most stable political situation, abundant wildlife and beautiful tropical beaches in Central America, why is Costa Rica targeted by hacker gangs? Liska believes it may simply be because there are too many holes in the country’s system. “Hacker gangs hunt for specific vulnerabilities. The most likely guess is that there are a lot of holes in the Colombian government system that ransomware hackers found and decided to attack.”
Brett Callow, a ransomware analyst at Emsisoft, said he had seen a document leaked by Costa Rica’s finance ministry, and “the data in it does appear to be authentic.”
On Friday (April 22), the Conti gang claimed on a dark web blog that 50 percent of the stolen data had been released, including a total of 850 GB of data from the databases of Colombia’s Ministry of Finance and other agencies. “These are good phishing fodder, and hopefully fellow hackers in Costa Rica can use it to make a fortune,” the gang said.
In recent years, network security has gradually become a hot topic. There are many businesses and governments that are also attacked by ransomware. Enterprises and governments should be vigilant, do a good job in data protection and disaster recovery, and use virtual machine backup and other methods to do a good job in data backup.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ashes have been laid to rest in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
The ashes of the late Nobel Prize winning novelist were flown home from Mexico where he had lived for years and where he died in 2014 at the age of 87.
A ceremony was held in the cloisters of Cartagena University, near Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s family home in the city.
The author is best known for his magic realist novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.
A bronze bust of Gabriel Garcia Marquez was unveiled by the writer’s son Rodrigo Garcia Barcha in the center of the cloisters of the university as the centerpiece of the memorial.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was considered the finest writer of the Spanish language since Cervantes
“It’s a day of joy mixed with sorrow,” the writer’s sister Aida Rosa Garcia Marquez told the French news agency AFP.
“But there is more joy than sorrow because to see a brother get to where Gabito reached can only bring joy.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in the town of Aracataca near Colombia’s northern Caribbean coast and started working as a journalist in the late 1940s in Cartagena.
The writer had lived since the 1980s in Mexico but his family decided he should be buried in Cartagena where many of his family members were also interred.
“Cartagena is the city where the Garcia Marquez family is based. It is where my grandparents are buried,” said Gonzalo Garcia Barcha, one of the writer’s two sons, from France where he now lives in an interview with AFP.
“It seemed natural to us that his ashes should be there too.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a love-hate relationship with Cartagena; the city appears in several of his novels often depicted as a decadent place full of conflict with a class-ridden and racist society.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has announced the discovery of San Jose galleon’s wreck off the Colombian coast.
The San Jose galleon was a Spanish ship laden with treasure that was sunk by the British more than 300 years ago.
“Great news! We have found the San Jose galleon,” President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted.
The wreck was discovered near the port city of Cartagena.
It has been described as the holy grail of shipwrecks, as the ship was carrying one of the largest amounts of valuables ever to have been lost at sea.
The Colombian galleon said the cargo was worth at least $1 billion.
The San Jose was carrying gold, silver, gems and jewellery collected in the South American colonies to be shipped to Spain’s king to help finance his war of succession against the British when it was sunk in June 1708.
The vessel was attacked by a British warship just outside Cartagena.
Colombian officials would not reveal the precise location of the wreck, but Juan Manuel Santos said the find “constitutes one of the greatest – if not the biggest, as some say – discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind”.
The president also said that a museum would be built in Cartagena to house the ship’s treasures.
Ownership of the wreck has been the subject of a long-running legal row.
The Colombian government did not mention its long-running quarrel with US-based salvage company Sea Search Armada (SSA) over claims to the treasure.
A group now owned by SSA said in 1981 that it had located the area in which the ship sank.
SSA has been claiming billions of dollars for breach of contract from the Colombian government, but in 2011 an American court ruled that the galleon was the property of the Colombian state.
Public memorials to Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died on Thursday in Mexico City aged 87, are being hold in Mexico and Colombia.
The presidents of Colombia and Mexico are due to attend a formal ceremony with funeral cortege in Mexico City, where Garcia Marquez lived for decades.
At the same time residents in his home town of Aracataca in northern Colombia will hold a symbolic funeral.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was considered the finest writer of the Spanish language since Cervantes.
The author was cremated at a private family ceremony in Mexico City last week.
A funeral cortege is taking Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ashes from his house to the historic centre of Mexican City for the memorial ceremony.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was considered the finest writer of the Spanish language since Cervantes (photo EPA)
The event in the majestic Palace of Fine Arts will be attended by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, his Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto and the author’s wife, Mercedes Barcha, and sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.
Thousands of members of the public who are mourning his loss will also say goodbye to Gabriel Garcia Marquez at the cultural venue, which is where Mexico pays tribute to its late artistic icons.
It has been adorned with yellow flowers, the author’s favorite, and a string quartet will perform music by the Hungarian Bela Bartok, among other composers.
In Colombia, residents are holding a ceremony of their own in his birth place of Aracataca, the inspiration for Macondo, the setting for his 1967 seminal masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, which sold millions of copies around the world.
On Tuesday, the Colombian government will hold a formal ceremony at the main cathedral in the capital Bogota, which will be televised.
Then on Wednesday, Colombians will have readings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel No One Writes to the Colonel in hundreds of libraries, parks and universities across the country.
There may be an element of disappointment in Colombia that the first main event to commemorate Gabriel Garcia Marquez is taking place in Mexico rather than his country of origin.
But rather than a diplomatic spat, it simply reflects the degree to which both countries – indeed all Latin Americans – considered Gabriel Garcia Marquez to be their own.
One solution being posited is that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ashes be divided between Mexico and Colombia, but his family has not yet revealed its wishes.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez fled Colombia in 1981 after learning that the country’s military wanted to question him over links to left-wing guerrillas.
At least ten inmates died and 42 others were injured in a fire at Modelo prison in the Colombian city of Barranquilla, police say.
Some inmates with slight injuries have now been released from hospitals in the city, but at least 15 are still being treated for the severe burns they suffered or for the smoke they inhaled.
The fire broke out Monday night, apparently when several inmates in Cellblock B of Modelo jail set mattresses on fire during a clash between rival gangs, following an inspection carried out by Inpec guards.
At least ten inmates died and 42 others were injured in a fire at Modelo prison in the Colombian city of Barranquilla
It took seven fire engines to extinguish the 39ft flames.
The director of the Colombian prison system, General Saul Torres, told local radio that a fight broke out after guards carried out a search of the cell block during which drugs, mobile phones and weapons were confiscated.
Saul Torres said that the guards fired tear gas to break up the fight, at which point the fire started.
Barranquilla authorities slammed the overcrowding at the Modelo jail, where close to 1,200 prisoners are held, triple the facility’s capacity for 400 inmates.
About 200 police and a hundred guards have surrounded the jail to prevent any inmates from escaping.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has rejected proposed mediation by Rev Jesse Jackson over FARC rebel-held hostage.
Juan Manuel Santos said only the Red Cross would be allowed to be involved, because he did not want “a media spectacle”.
Jesse Jackson had agreed to go to Colombia next week to seek the release of former US marine Kevin Scott Sutay, held by leftist FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebels since June.
The FARC say they want to free Kevin Scott Sutay to boost peace talks.
During a visit to Cuba on Saturday, Rev Jesse Jackson had agreed to mediate, following a FARC statement saying his “experience and probity” would speed up the process of freeing Kevin Scott Sutay, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
However, President Juan Manuel Santos reacted quickly, writing on Twitter: “Only the Red Cross will be allowed to facilitate the release of the North American kidnapped by the FARC. We won’t allow a media spectacle.”
Rev Jesse Jackson had agreed to go to Colombia next week to seek the release of former US marine Kevin Scott Sutay, held by leftist FARC rebels since June
Earlier this month, during a visit to Colombia, Jesse Jackson had called on Colombia’s largest rebel group to release Kevin Scott Sutay.
The left-wing rebels responded by releasing a statement on Saturday inviting the civil rights leader to participate in the negotiations over the ex-soldiers’ release.
Hours later, Jesse Jackson accepted the invitation in Cuba, where he had met rebel leaders who are in Havana for peace talks with the Colombian government, as a service “to Kevin Scott, his family and our nation.”
“We have made contact with the State Department urging them to contact as quickly as possible the nearest of kin of Kevin Scott because his release is imminent,” he said.
In their statement, the FARC say they have not yet released Kevin Scott because the government has not “fulfilled the minimum conditions required” for freeing him.
Earlier this week, the left-wing rebels had requested the involvement of former Senator Piedad Cordoba in the release process, but President Juan Manuel Santos also dismissed this to avoid a “media spectacle”.
As a result, on Friday Piedad Cordoba sent a letter to the FARC declining to participate.
The freeing of Kevin Scott would “contribute to a positive mood” in the continuing peace talks with the Colombian government in Cuba, the FARC says.
So far, officially there has been agreement on only one of six points on the agenda – land reform.
Five decades of internal conflict in Colombia have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Colombia has decided to deploy troops in the capital, Bogota, following violent protests in support of a strike by small-scale farmers.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the troops were needed “to assure normality”.
Clashes with police broke out after thousands of people took to the streets in support of the farmers. At least two people have died.
Farmers say government policies are driving them into bankruptcy.
“Last night, I ordered the militarization of Bogota and I will do the same today in any municipality or area that needs the presence of our soldiers,” Juan Manuel Santos said in a televised address after an overnight cabinet meeting.
“It’s unacceptable that the actions of a few impact the lives of the majority.”
He did not say how many troops would be called in.
Colombia has deployed troops in Bogota following violent protests in support of small-scale farmers strike
President Juan Manuel Santos had earlier described the protests as “valid”, but urged demonstrators to keep them peaceful.
Clashes broke out on Thursday afternoon after tens of thousands of people marched peacefully in support of a 10-day protest by small-scale farmers.
Correspondents said masked youths threw stones and bricks and fought riot police who responded with tear gas and water cannon.
The two deaths occurred overnight in the western districts of Suba and Engativa, although the circumstances are not yet clear, Bogota security chief Alfonso Jaramillo said.
Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo said that those who had resorted to violence were “vandals, not farmers”.
The protests have united potato growers and milk producers with teachers, health workers and students – and negotiations with the government remain deadlocked.
Protesters in other parts of the country have also been blocking roads and disrupting food supplies to major cities and towns.
On Wednesday the government announced measures – including better prices for agricultural products and more access to loans – to ease the pressure on farmers.
The government also promised more protection from products imported at lower prices from countries with free-trade agreements with Colombia.
But the small-scale farmers have so far rejected the government’s offer.
They say that free trade agreements with the EU and the US, which have recently come into force, are flooding the market with agricultural products at prices they are unable to match.
They also complain that rising fuel and production costs have turned small-scale farming into a loss-making business.
The annual report by the Norwegian Refugee Council suggests almost 29 million people lived in internal displacement in 2012, with 6.5 million newly displaced just in the past year.
For the fourth year running, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people on the list.
Globally, the total number of displaced people has risen, with the conflict in Syria blamed for much of the spike.
A third of all internally displaced are in sub-Saharan Africa, the report says.
The annual report by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) suggests internal displacement – in which people flee from violence without crossing their country’s borders – will continue to accelerate unless permanent solutions to conflicts are found.
IDMC Director Kate Halff says that governments are “responsible for finding long-term solutions for their displaced citizens”.
For the fourth year running, Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people, according to the IDMC annual report for 2012
The report says that Colombia, with its estimated 4.9 to 5.5 million internally displaced people tops the global list.
It estimates that Colombia’s internal armed conflict forced around 230,000 people to flee their homes in 2012.
However, the report says that the figure is provisional, as the government did not publish official figures for the past year.
It also notes that the figure fails to include those people displaced as a result of violence carried out by criminal and drug-trafficking gangs.
That violence, however, has been on the up, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos recognizing the rise of the criminal gangs as one of the main threats facing the country.
On Sunday, police figures suggested that Colombia’s largest criminal gang, Los Urabenos, now has more members than the left-wing rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
Both the Colombian Red Cross and the IDMC have warned that the victims of criminal gangs in Colombia do not receive the same official recognition as those victimized by the Farc or ELN rebel groups.
Police say the Urabenos have more than 2,000 members and operate in major cities such as Medellin, as well as rural areas, where they engage in drug and arms trafficking and extortion.
Colombia has suffered from almost five decades of civil conflict with both left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries fighting each other, and the security forces.
Negotiators representing the government and the Farc rebel group are currently holding peace negotiations in Cuba in an attempt to end the conflict.
The government has also launched a restitution programme aimed at returning land stolen as part of the conflict to its rightful owners.
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