PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment, and Infrastructure VROMI Egbert Doran, responsible for utilities company GEBE, said on Wednesday that based on information he has received, no ransom has been paid in the GEBE ransomware virus attack matter.
He also indicated that “no concrete date” has been provided for the reopening of the utilities company. He provided the information in response to questions during the live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday.
GEBE closed its doors temporarily on March 17, due to a cyberattack caused by the Black Byte ransomware, which impacted the company’s computer systems.
Asked about reports indicating that the ransom amount that had been requested is between US $1 and 2 million, the minister said: “With respect to the amount in the ransom, it’s varied and I don’t have the specific one right now, because it keeps changing and I think that was brought out in the reports as well, but not any official report, so to speak.”
GEBE had announced in April that it was in the “final planning stage” of reopening its doors to the public, but the company did not specify when it planned to reopen.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said on Wednesday, April 6, that GEBE was advised to reopen its doors as soon as possible during a meeting with the company and ministers. “That is one of the areas that we felt that we should have had a contingency plan to be able to still receive the payments as they are aware that on the technical side, there were no infiltrations … It will take a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day, persons should be able to know what their bills are,” Jacobs had said during the live Council of Ministers press briefing at that time.
Doran said GEBE has not yet reopened and therefore an investigation and finding out what took place is still ongoing. He said the hack is still live and direct. As it is still an ongoing matter, sensitive information cannot be divulged.
In response to a question about government’s overall approach to avoid future virus attacks, he said: “There was a meeting that we had with various stakeholders and also some government-owned companies to form a sort of an alliance in order to better protect our [information technology – Ed.] IT infrastructure, so to speak, and that is ongoing with government having the lead on the way forward, because at the end of the day this is something that is plaguing the entire world. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry in terms of hacking, so therefore it is nothing new. It is not as if these things cannot happen. It is just like having a bullet-proof vest on. It does not stop you from being shot at. So, having protection and having different ways and means of protecting your data does not stop you from getting any sort of hacks or having vulnerabilities, Indeed, the main idea behind IT is having redundancy, so therefore, this team will focus more on redundancy and different ways and means to protect the data and see how we can work at it, so a complete plan with all the various stakeholders in order to save funds and save time as well, because if TelEm does a research, we do a research, GEBE does a research, if we do it together, it makes the world of a difference, especially being such a small island.”