Sophisticated hackers infiltrated U.N. offices in Geneva and Vienna last year in an apparent espionage operation, and their identity and the extent of the data they obtained is unknown.
Time, By Jamey Keaton

© Stefan Cioata—Getty Images | In 'Sophisticated' Incident, Dozens of United Nations Servers Hacked
An internal confidential document from the United Nations leaked to The New Humanitarian and seen by The Associated Press, says dozens of servers were compromised including at the U.N. human rights office, which collects sensitive data and has often been a lightning rod of criticism from autocratic governments for exposing rights abuses.
Asked about the report, one U.N. official told the AP that the hack appeared “sophisticated” and that the extent of the damage remained unclear, especially in terms of personal, secret or compromising information that may have been stolen. The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the episode, said systems have since been reinforced.
The skill level was so high it is possible a state-backed actor might have been behind it, the official said.
“It’s as if someone were walking in the sand, and swept up their tracks with a broom afterward,” the official said. “There’s not even a trace of a clean-up.”
The leaked Sept. 20 report says logs that would have betrayed the hackers’ activities inside the U.N. networks — what was accessed and what may have been siphoned out — were “cleared.” It also shows that among accounts known to have been accessed were those of domain administrators — who by default have master access to all user accounts in their purview.
“Sadly … still counting our casualties,” the report says.
Jake Williams, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Rendition Infosec and a former U.S. government hacker, said the fact that the hackers cleared the network logs indicates they were not top-flight. The most skilled hackers — including U.S., Russian and Chinese agents — can cover their tracks by editing those logs instead of clearing them.
“The intrusion definitely looks like espionage,” said Williams, noting that the active directory component — where all users’ permissions are managed — from three different domains were compromised: those of United Nations offices in Geneva and Vienna and of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“This, coupled with the relatively small number of infected machines, is highly suggestive of espionage,” he said after viewing the report. “The attackers have a goal in mind and are deploying malware to machines that they believe serve some purpose for them.”
Any number of intelligence agencies from around the globe are likely interested in infiltrating the U.N., Williams said.
The hack was not severe at the U.N. human rights office, said its spokesman, Rupert Colville.
“We face daily attempts to get into our computer systems,” Colville said. ” This time, they managed, but it did not get very far. Nothing confidential was compromised.”
This article was originally published by Time.
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