GCSB to help NZX with cyber-attack amid reports of crime syndicate demanding payments

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has been directed to help the New Zealand stock exchange (NZX) with a cyber-attack amid reports a crime syndicate is demanding Bitcoin payments. 

The NZX website has been targeted by repeated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks since Tuesday and tech website ZDNet has reported that the hackers are believed to be demanding massive Bitcoin ransoms. 

NZX is still investigating the DDoS attack, a means of disrupting a digital service by saturating the network with significant volumes of internet traffic, which has caused NZX to halt trading four days in a row.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday the Government is supporting NZX Ltd by getting the Government's spy agencies involved. He said he is not aware of any ransom demands and directed the question towards the GCSB. 

"We recognise that it is important that the Government works with private companies like them when they are faced with issues like the cyber-attack they are currently experiencing," Robertson said. 

"There are limits to what I can say today about the action the Government is taking behind the scenes due to significant security considerations."

He said the Government is aware of the impact it is having on the stock market and officials and ministers have been working with the NZX. 

"Ministers have asked the GCSB to assist and the National Cyber Security Centre within the GCSB are assisting NZX. The National Security System has been activated which ensures coordination between agencies in order to support the NZX," Robertson said. 

The National Security System is activated if the impact of a situation of national security is deemed "sufficiently complex, significant" or if the attention of the broader system is necessary to help tackle it. 

"I can't go into much more in terms of specific details other than to say we as a Government are treating this very seriously. We are aware of the impact it is having and that is why we have directed the GCSB to help the NZX with this situation," Robertson said. 

He said the NZX is part of New Zealand's overall economic infrastructure. 

"That's a significant reason why we've got the highest levels of Government involved and our security agencies involved as well," he said. "I'm not really at liberty to go any further than that other than to say we're taking it seriously."

He said the GCSB know a lot about cyber-attacks and it can be applied to the NZX. 

Professor Dave Parry from Auckland University of Technology's department of computer science said earlier this week the attacks appear to be at a level of sophistication which is relatively rare. 

"Unfortunately, the skills and software to do this are widely available and the disruption of COVID and people working from home all over the world potentially with lower security on their computers means that these attacks are easier than usual."