Banks and post offices in New Zealand have been hit by a cyber offensive, according to reports, consisting of sustained DDoS attacks against a number of critical online services.
The onslaught appear to be a continuation of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) blitzes against Vocus, the nation’s third-largest ISP, as we reported last week.
The NZ Herald wrote that Kiwibank, ANZ, NZ Post and weather forecaster MetService had all been targeted but appeared to have recovered.
The Government Communications Security Bureau, declined to comment beyond telling the newspaper: “We are aware that malicious cyber actors can follow what is reported publicly, and may change their behaviour based on media reporting of their activity.”
Other local media outlets repeated NZ government figures’ guarded statements, which did not include the reasons why so many institutions had been targeted for DDoSes.
Local cybersecurity agency NZ-CERT added to the general air of mystery, saying in a statement on its website that it was “aware of a DDoS attack targeting a number of New Zealand organisations. We are monitoring the situation and are working with affected parties where we can.”
Back in July, New Zealand formally attributed the malicious activities of APT40 to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, with NZ security minister Andrew Little urging China to end “this type of malicious activity, which undermines global stability and security”.
Little was joining the UK and the US in that attribution, which included the infamous Hafnium Microsoft Exchange Server vuln exploitation campaign – and also named industrial espionage operation APT31 as a Chinese state theft campaign.
Research published by FireEye in 2019 into APT40’s actions included a list of targeted nation states – and New Zealand was not one of them, though a lot can change in two years.
Current affairs magazine The Diplomat, which focuses on the Asia-Pacific region, characterised Little’s attribution as “unusually forthright” while in an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta warned in May that New Zealand could find itself “in the eye of the storm” if China’s cyber cold war with Australia spilled southeast.
The diplomatic silence of New Zealand’s establishment on the identity or motivations of such a wide-ranging set of DDoSes over a relatively lengthy period of time could be an indicator that they hope to quietly placate the attacker behind the scenes.
In May, NZ hospitals were targeted with a cyber attack – albeit that was ransomware deployed by common-or-garden extortionists.
While it’s not impossible that a non-state actor could have randomly decided to mess about with NZ’s digital infrastructure for the lulz, the odds of the current attacker being better resourced than the average botnet-wielding script kiddie seem good, judging by their scale and effect. ®