United Kingdom government websites infected by cryptocurrency miners

by Dominic Parks February 15, 2018, 1:21
United Kingdom government websites infected by cryptocurrency miners

A commonly-used accessibility script was hacked to inject the Coinhive miner into official sites in the US, UK and Australia.

Researcher Scott Helme reported over 4,000 websites, including the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the General Medical Council and some NHS websites, were affected by the problem.

Helme said: "It's a very lucrative proposal". If a hacker wants to infect four thousand websites it's likely to be a lot less effort tamper with one third-party script which is used by four thousand websites than compromise each website one-by-one.

An analysis of the attack from security firm Sophos' Paul Ducklin suggests that this was the full extent of the attack's impact with no other code that could have compromised visitors' systems, installed malicious software, or stolen personal information having been discovered.

Browsealoud will remain offline until 12 pm on Tuesday. A full investigation is now underway, and Martin McKay, CTO and Data Security Officer at the company said: "In light of other recent cyber attacks all over the world, we have been preparing for such an incident for the past year and our data security action plan was actioned straight away".

Over the weekend, a little piece of malware was hard at work mining cryptocurrency on government computers. The malware was embedded in an altered version of a tool used by people who have difficulty reading the text on websites called Browsealoud, developed by software maker Texthelp.

Over 4,200 websites are in the victims list [link], including The City University of NY, the U.S. court information portal (uscourts.gov), Lund University, the privacy watchdog The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and several other government, health and educational websites across the world.

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In the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner's Office and the Student Loan Company have both been affected, with the General Medical Council and NHS Inform also found running the script. Many websites use "plug-ins" like Browsealound - third party apps which perform a specific task and save the trouble of writing code from scratch.

Texthelp said in a statement that the compromised plugin has been taken offline, adding that a "thorough investigation" is underway.

Government websites in other countries were also affected, Helme noted.

Martin McKay, Chief Technology Officer and Data Security Officer for TextHelp added, "A security review will be conducted by an independent security consultancy".

There is no further risk to computers who were affected.

The National Cyber Security Centre said that the malicious code had now been disabled and members of the public were no longer at risk.

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