Microsoft steps up to help Nunavut government with ransomware recovery

Move to regroup under Microsoft could be a cost saver, government says

Microsoft Corp. has stepped up to help the Government of Nunavut get back online after the Nov. 2 ransomware attack. This photo shows a building at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington. (Photographed by Coolcaesar CC BY-SA 4.0, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

By Jane George

(Updated, Nov. 29 at 9 a.m.)

Microsoft Corp. is helping the Government of Nunavut get its computers back online after the Nov. 2 ransomware attack.

Microsoft sent in its Detection and Response Team, or DART, to support the GN’s information technology staff, said Dean Wells, the territory’s chief of information technology.

According to Microsoft, DART helps provide solutions to customers dealing with cyberattacks.

Microsoft has sent three members from DART and a technical account manager to Nunavut. The support is provided under a contract that was signed before the ransomware incident, the GN said.

The GN said the team arrived with tools specifically designed for them to bring the GN’s systems back online “in a secure operating environment.”

The GN’s new computer network, set up after the ransomware virus disabled its old system, uses Microsoft’s latest software and cloud data storage, which includes advanced cybersecurity, said Wells.

The GN has gone to a new Microsoft system, he said, because it made sense to start fresh and “make something good out of a bad situation.”

The GN declined to offer more information about the specific name of the product being used to run the new network, “for security reasons.”

But the GN plans to regroup its various information technology services under Microsoft, which Wells said could lead to some cost savings.

“We’re a government and we get a special rate and pricing from them,” he said.

Members of Nunavut’s legislative assembly will learn more about the price tag for the ransomware recovery during the winter sitting of the territorial legislature, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq told Nunatsiaq News this week.

Overall, the cost of rebuilding the GN’s computer operations is likely to be “substantial,” Savikataaq said.

That effort includes the physical reformatting of 5,000 computers throughout Nunavut.

“We don’t have extra funds just lying around, but the GN doesn’t have a choice but to spend the money,” Savikataaq said.

Microsoft and McAfee, a cybersecurity company, want to know what happened, he said. That’s because the ransom virus that got into the GN’s network shouldn’t have got in.

“But it did,” Savikataaq said. “It should not have been breached.”

Savikataaq said it’s not 100 per cent certain that a similar situation won’t happen again.

“You can’t say never because it’s a war being fought out there, not just by us, but by other organizations and governments,” he said.

Wells also said the risk of ransomware attacks remains high. He said it’s like being stalked by big-game hunters, whose prey now includes governments.

The cost of the loss of productivity at the GN this month, when so many were unable to go online, has not yet been tallied.

“We’re working through it,” Savikataaq said. “It did affect our operations but it didn’t cripple us. This is just one of the issues we have to deal with.

But “everything should be caught up,” Savikataaq said.

Asked about why he had stated in a recent news release that the disruptions were “minimal,” Savikataaq responded that they could have been worse.

He said there weren’t as many complaints as could have been expected because people understood “we’re doing the best to fix it.”

“I don’t know if they knew what was going on, but they knew it was being worked on,” Savikataaq said.

And, while there were disruptions, GN employees got paid and those on income assistance received food vouchers, he said.

Clarification

This story has been updated to include a more complete quotation from Dean Wells, the territory’s chief of information technology, about the reasons for switching to a new Microsoft system.

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(14) Comments:

  1. Posted by Itibli on

    please stop allowing users to bring, and use USB drives from outside sources. eg. going home to work on projects, sharing files via external methods. Allow these users to properly connect remotely when needed

    • Posted by Observer on

      Except this attack was not caused by that. I know some government departments have only been able to functions because staff had critical files and forms on USB sticks that they’ve been able to use on their personal or borrowed computers.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      Also perhaps there should be ongoing training on the types of emails that are not to be opend. how can any system be 100% safe if an email that shows up with a suspicious link and someone clicks the link.

  2. Posted by inooya on

    Nunavut GN has still been running windows xp and now they payed the price for not upgrading. Seen a lot of the computers running xp in the smaller communities. Servers were my guess running widows server 2000 NT 5.0 or older

    • Posted by luawtf on

      It’s called Linux or GNU/Linux. It’s more secure than both macOS and Windows. Dump em’ both. (it is also 100% free!)

  3. Posted by Editor on

    MicroSoft helps itself to the GN’s Budget Surplus.

    There, fixed the title for you.

    “DART helps provide solutions to customers”. That is Marketing-speak for high pressure sales. What MicroSoft sent to sent to Iqaluit was their elite sales team.

  4. Posted by KCC ED on

    We are are happy to learn that all of the GN employees as well as the community members who count on the GN’s financial assistance have in fact received their assistance.

    However Joe Savikataaq what about the GN contractors who are supposed to be getting paid every 20 days from the invoice date but are now sitting on invoices that have gone unpaid in months? We form a Chamber of Commerce with 35 business members in the Kitikmeot Region whom many have now gone months with no payment on any of their invoices for services rendered to the GN.

    We have some members stating that they are owed in excess of $500,000 and some have even reported being owed more than $1,000,000 combined from the different GN departments. When will these business owners see some relief cheques? The businesses still need to maintain their contractural obligations to the different GN divisions however they are feeling the pain and frustrations of having no income coming in for the work provided to the GN.

    There have been no phone lines setup for contractors to call to get answers, there has been no communication from any GN department or official concerning the many private sector businesses that are also being affected by this ransomware attack. Many have spent countless hours trying to reach someone to try and get some insight but have all just been told “Iqaluit is now online but there will be no relief until all of Nunavut is back online, however we have no idea when that will be”.

    What will happen if these businesses get to the point that they can no longer afford to finance its operations to carry out GN work on housing and its many other GN divisions or they have to lay off employees which none of them want to do? Will this help the economic development in Nunavut?

    Joe Savikataaq please quickly develop a strategic plan to assist the business owners that have been affected by this ransomeware attack as well. The GN has an obligation to pay the contractors for services rendered just like they do to their employees. The private sector businesses owners and their employees need to eat as well.

    Executive Director
    Kitikmeot Chamber of Commerce

    • Posted by Comadoof on

      Wow. Thats a sideswipe no one saw coming, there’s no cost code or forecast for that. That’s in addition to the housing issues, and ongoing hr restructuring and hiring freezes that…

      Well there is always normal procedure, GCs, and this may be yoo alarmist and not the best location for such business.

    • Posted by Sadude on

      Whoa! take a breath b4 u exhaust yourself with that lengthy spiel. The premier & GN are fully aware of the unforeseen ramifications of the ransomware attack. Chill & let them take care of the wheels so the wagon can get rolling again.

      • Posted by Tired of idiots on

        @Sadude clearly your bank account is not affected by the fact that the GN is not paying their contractors invoices. We on the other hand have over $1,000,000 dollars owed to us. As private contractors we should not be forced to finance the GN’s work load and contractural obligations to pay us. So until you have some meat in the game there’s no need for you to believe that you’re smart in anyway, keep collecting your welfare or E.I check.

        • Posted by Then why do business on

          If it is such a poor working relationship and not worth it and have to complain hiding your name, maybe you should do something else if you are carrying the load for the government for nothing in return.

  5. Posted by Okay on

    In hindsight it would have been wiser to pay to hackers and then build a more robust system. Larger organizations than the gn had to pay then improve their system. The GN should keep in mind that is companies like Microsoft, Microsoft more so, that sell software with vulnerabilities that hackers exploit.

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