Hackers have breached the United Nations’ computer networks earlier this year and accessed data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization, Bloomberg News reported.
The hackers’ method for gaining access to the UN network is unsophisticated: They got in using the stolen username and password of a UN employee purchased off the dark web.
“We can confirm that unknown attackers were able to breach parts of the United Nations infrastructure in April of 2021,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said in a statement on Thursday.
“The United Nations is frequently targeted by cyberattacks, including sustained campaigns. We can confirm that further attacks have been detected and are being responded to, that are linked to the earlier breach.”
The credentials belonged to an account on the UN’s proprietary project management software, called Umoja. From there, the hackers gained access to the UN’s network, according to cybersecurity firm Resecurity, which discovered the breach. The earliest known date the hackers obtained access to the UN’s systems was April 5, and they were still active on the network as of Aug. 7.
“UN is a high-value target for cyber-espionage activity,” Resecurity Chief Executive Officer Gene Yoo said. “The actor conducted the intrusion with the goal of compromising large numbers of users within the UN network for further long-term intelligence gathering.”
Hackers, who breached the UN, didn’t damage any of its systems, but instead collected information about the UN’s computer networks.
Resecurity said company officials informed the UN of its latest breach earlier this year and worked with organization’s security team to identify the scope of the attack. The UN’s Dujarric said the international organization had already detected the attack.
UN officials informed Resecurity that the hack was limited to reconnaissance, and that the hackers had only taken screenshots while inside the network, according to Resecurity. When Resecurity’s Yoo provided proof to the UN of stolen data, the UN stopped corresponding with the company, he said.
The Umoja account used by the hackers wasn’t enabled with two-factor authentication, a basic security feature. According to an announcement on Umoja’s website in July, the system migrated to Microsoft’s Azure, which provides multifactor authentication. That move reduces the risk of cybersecurity breaches,” an announcement on Umoja’s site read.
In 2018, Dutch and British law enforcement foiled a Russian cyberattack against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as it probed the use of a deadly nerve agent on British soil.
In August 2019, the UN’s core infrastructure was compromised in a cyberattack that targeted a known vulnerability in Microsoft’s SharePoint platform, according to a report by Forbes. The breach wasn’t publicly disclosed until it was reported by the New Humanitarian news organization.
In the latest breach, hackers sought to map out more information about how the UN’s computer networks are built, and to compromise the accounts of 53 UN accounts, Resecurity said.
Bloomberg News did review dark web ads where users across at least three marketplaces were selling these same credentials as recently as July 5.
The attacks carried out by the hackers may enable them to conduct future hacks or to sell the information to other groups that may seek to breach the UN.
Allan Liska, a senior threat analyst at Recorded Future, said he had seen the username and password for UN employees for sale on the dark web.
The credentials have been offered by multiple Russian-speaking cybercriminals, according to Mark Arena, chief executive officer of security-intelligence firm Intel 471. The UN credentials were being sold as part of a patch of dozens of usernames and passwords to various organizations for just $1,000.