The country where officials are using pen, paper and typewriters to govern after major cyber-attack

Vanuatu’s online public sector was knocked off for nearly a month in a malware attack

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Tuesday 29 November 2022 09:14 GMT
Related: Vanuatu devastated by Cyclone Pam

The Polynesian country of Vanuatu has switched to typewriter, pen, paper, and yellow pages to run their newly-elected government, nearly a month after its parliament and public sector websites were knocked out in a cyber attack.

A malware attack earlier this month on government servers, emails and other online systems disrupted communication and coordination in the Pacific archipelago nation of about 315,000 people.

The websites of Vanuatu's parliament, police and prime minister's office were disabled in the hack, which the government has still not been able to fix.

The email system, hospital and emergency services, intranet and online databases of schools were also taken down in the hack, leaving the nation scrambling to carry out basic activities such as paying taxes or paying bills online.

The government’s online services were "compromised" on 6 November, the day after prime minister Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau was sworn in, officials said. Although reports suggest that the attack might have taken place a week before the mentioned date.

The attackers reportedly demanded a ransom a week after the network was affected but the government refused to pay.

"We came into government and less than 24 hours later this cyber attack took the whole system down — and it's down now so it is affecting our work," Vanuatu's new climate change minister Mr Regenvanu was quoted by ABC News as saying.

He added: "We put in place the necessary decisions and so on to get it fixed, and the people are working on it, but it is a serious breach of our national security."

Three weeks into the hack, several officials have resorted to their personal emails and hotspot services to conduct government work across the 80 islands of the country. Some offices were also running from their social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.

“Everything runs on email here, so the email outages are causing a lot of issues,” Glen Craig, the managing partner of consulting firm Pacific Advisory told the New York Times.

“If you’ve got things in process like building permits or residency applications or work permits — all those services have been held up.”

The country's main hospital Port Vila Central was also affected by the cyber attack and has switched to an offline mode.

According to medical superintendent Vincent Atua, patient care had not been impacted but the online system to pay suppliers was not working, causing a "major, major issue".

He said the staff had gone back to using pen and paper and begun walking to other departments to get things done. "We're just going back to how we used to do things in the olden days," he told ABC News.

"Getting urgently required drugs, raising payments for that by going through the finance system is awfully slow and many times we have had delays," he added.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has extended offers to rebuild Vanuatu’s entire IT network in the wake of the cyber attack.

“We sent in a team to assist with that disgraceful cyber-attack and the response and we are working through the process of bringing the government IT systems back up to speed,” said Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for international development and the Pacific.

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