Cyberattacks by nation-states will soon kill people, either deliberately or unintentionally, a senior security researcher told attendees at the RSA Conference this week.
The May 2017 WannaCry attacks by North Korea and the NotPetya attacks by the Russian military in June 2017 shut down hospitals, disrupted shipping and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in losses — much of it in the form of collateral damage.
It is inevitable, she said during her RSA presentation yesterday (March 5), that future nation-state attacks on such scale will cause loss of life.
“I rarely get to stand up in front of groups and tell them that the news is getting better,” Joyce told the crowd. “But if you have purely destructive malware backed by a nation-state, then where does that leave us?”
NotPetya, which targeted tax-collection software that every business in Ukraine was obliged to run, masqueraded as ransomware, Joyce explained. But it was impossible to decrypt the affected data even if a ransom was paid. The goal of NotPetya was purely destructive, and the destruction streamed outward from Ukraine to infect companies and other institutions in 65 other countries.
Part of the collateral damage was at U.S. hospitals, Joyce said, where some patients could not be immediately treated as a result.
“A friend of mine who was suffering from throat cancer was turned away and told to come back next week,” Joyce said.
“If you have purely destructive malware backed by a nation-state, then where does that leave us?”
—Sandra Joyce, FireEye senior vice president
Had anyone died as a result of NotPetya, that would have been an unintended consequence of a specific attack on Ukraine’s economy. But nation-state malware already exists that is designed to deliberately kill people, according to Joyce.