Nunavut government cites “significant progress” in ransomware recovery

IT repair teams heading out of Iqaluit this week

How much longer will this old telephone and typewriter allow Nunavut Arctic College instructor Vicki Aitaok to work in Cambridge Bay? Many Nunavummiut continue to be affected by the loss of computer access in the Government of Nunavut. That may change this week as information technology teams fan out to Nunavut’s three regions to reconnect communities to the new computer network. (Submitted photo)

By Jane George

This week the Government of Nunavut’s information technology workers will fan out to communities outside Iqaluit to repair computers disabled by the recent ransomware attack.

The Department of Community and Government Services’ information technology staff will examine all GN computers and reformat the machines damaged by the Nov. 2 ransomware attack, which took all GN computers offline.

Teams will be deployed in all three regions, relying on both remote and on-site resources to do their work, a GN release said on Nov. 22.

Three weeks after being hit by ransomware that knocked out all its computers, the GN said it has made “significant progress in system recovery efforts.”

The GN’s Nov. 22 news release was the first ransomware update that the government was able to send out by email rather than via its Facebook page or website since Nov. 2.

Right now, in Iqaluit, where most of the government’s main offices are located, the majority of GN departments’ employees are now connected to the network and have access to the internet, the release said.

But the situation is different in the communities, home to 80 per cent of the territory’s residents, where affected GN computers still need to be reformatted.

“It’s been an incredible team effort, and though there is work left to do, the fact that we have been able to carry on with minimal disruptions to Nunavummiut says a lot about our dedicated staff, strong contingency planning and great ability to adapt,” said Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq in the release.

Some in Nunavut would dispute whether those disruptions were “minimal”: One woman with children waited two weeks to receive food vouchers while her refrigerator was empty; a family-run grocery business has suffered because they can’t exchange food vouchers; foster parents and students have experienced delays in receiving money; and job seekers’ applications have been on hold.

However, the GN’s signs of progress include the following:

  • The setup of a new, secure email system, so regular government email addresses are once again functional.
  • Students can go online through the student education network and receive their high school transcripts. Students can send a request for transcripts at studenttranscripts@gov.nu.ca, and also get more information online.
  • Payments have been made to recipients of Financial Assistance to Nunavut Students, Adult Learning Training Supports and the foster parents’ program, as well as GN employees.
  • Vendors and suppliers have received “urgent payments” and upcoming vendor payments will proceed as usual. GN vendors can obtain more information online.
  • And income assistance clients in Iqaluit are now receiving their usual payments.

But clients on income support in communities outside Iqaluit will continue to receive vouchers “for all necessities,” the release said, although some have said they would prefer to receive cheques.

While the GN said essential health services have not been affected by the ransomware attack, telehealth equipment and the electronic medical record system continue to undergo testing “before being brought online in the near future.”

“I realize this has been inconvenient for many Nunavummiut, and I want to thank everyone for their patience. Safely re-connecting our communities to the network, as soon as possible, is our continuing focus,” Savikataaq said.

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(5) Comments:

  1. Posted by Former Insider on

    The reality is:
    * The GN had backups of individual files and were able to restore them.
    * The GN had firewalls and anti-malware protection.
    * What the GN did not have was a contingency plan for a ransomware attack or for anything that might break through its firewall and do serious damage.
    * The other thing the GN did not have was a backup for its network of file-servers.
    * The GN network was all hand coded.
    * If they had had scripts (backed up) that could be used to rebuild the network, they could have restored the network in a few hours.
    * They still would have had to clean up the individual PCs.
    * Now the GN is using MicroSoft and its Cloud and its Windows 10 for everything – at a cost that I’d guess is 4 times what the GN has been paying.
    * That’s what you pay when you don’t pay for the facility to both back up your configuration, and also to test it.
    * The GN’s critics though it was paying a lot for IT contractors.
    * Those same critics will be astounded at the one-time and ongoing cost of this incident.

    • Posted by Will we ever know? on

      I don’t know if the politicians or public will ever be told the total cost of this mess.

      Would you say the GN IT guys and their hired contractors are heroes or zeroes?

      • Posted by Heroes and Zeros on

        They are neither heroes nor zeros.

        They are just ordinary people with an interest in computers who happen to have gotten some technical education. Most of them are earning about 1/3 of what the GN is paying for their service.

        They are doing what they can, given the constraints of the situation and the instructions given to them by the decision-makers who generally know less than they do.

        The big winner in all this is MicroSoft. If I were a cynic I’d think they were behind the ransomware. Certainly their buggy software (with its warranty that says it is not good for anything) made the ransomware possible.

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