Hackers Paralyze WPP, the Largest Ad Agency in the World

Many of the WPP agencies like JWT, Y&R, MediaCom, and GroupM among others have been affected by the worldwide cyberattack, called Petya on 27 June 2017. A press release from WPP on the day of the attack said, “We are working with our IT partners and law enforcement agencies to take all appropriate precautionary measures, restore services where they have been disrupted, and keep the impact on clients, partners and our people to a minimum.

Having taken steps to contain the attack, the priority now is to return to normal operations as soon as possible while protecting our systems. Our operations have not been uniformly affected, and issues are being addressed on a company-by-company basis. Many of our businesses are experiencing no or minimal disruption. We will provide further updates as the situation develops.”

Interestingly, Petya could not penetrate Mac computers even though it played havoc with PCs running on Windows operating systems. An intragroup email alert sent out to all employees of all the WPP group agencies had asked employees to immediately shut down all PC running on Windows, till further notice. An internal memo attributed to WPP chairman, Martin Sorrell, said, “Many of you will have experienced significant disruption to your work. However, contrary to some press reports, WPP and its companies are still very much open for business. We are a group packed full of highly creative, ingenious and dedicated people. I urge you all to put those qualities to use in making sure that what our clients experience in the hours and days ahead is as close to business as usual as we can possibly manage.”

Is this attack a variation on the ‘Wanna cry’ attack that happened last month? Many experts and analysts now believe that the Petya attack is, in fact, a variation of Wanna Cry, which also targeted Windows systems and demanded ransom in bitcoin payment. Although Microsoft developed a series of “patches” in March, both the Wanna Cry attack and Petya cause a lot of damage to numerous businesses and departments of government bodies. “Enterprises are clearly not prioritizing patches effectively. While some organizations may have situations where they are unable to patch, that excuse doesn’t scale when you get a worm causing damage on this level,” says Josh Zelonis, senior analyst at Forrester Researcher.

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