Hacked Script Infects Several Government Sites with Cryptominer
The websites of numerous government, health and education organizations worldwide were infected with a crypto-currency miner over the weekend, after a script running on all of them was maliciously modified.
The culprit was Browsealoud, a script developed by Texthelp to add “speech, reading, and translation to websites.” The software was designed to provide access and participation to people with Dyslexia, Low Literacy, English as a Second Language, and to those with mild visual impairments, the company says.
As a result of this attack, numerous government websites in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia were infected with the crypto-mining software.
As Scott Helme, the researcher who noticed the malicious script quickly discovered, a total of 4275 websites were impacted in this attack, including prominent sites such as UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office, the NHS, the General Medical Council, U.S. Courts, academic websites, and many others.
“The ba.js had been altered to include a document.write call that added a CoinHive crypto miner to any page it was loaded in to. The sheer number of sites affected by this is huge and some of them are really prominent government websites,” Helme points out.
The reason so many websites were impacted isn’t only the ease of use Browsealoud promises, as admins only need to copy and paste one script to take advantage of it, but also regulatory requirements around accessibility that many sites need to comply with, especially government sites.
Soon after realizing the cause of the infection, Helme notified Texthelp, which decided to take Browsealoud offline, thus removing it from all of their customer sites immediately. The company claims that taking the product down allowed them to address the issue without requiring customers to take action.
“Texthelp can report that no customer data has been accessed or lost. The company has examined the affected file thoroughly and can confirm that it did not redirect any data, it simply used the computers CPUs to attempt to generate cryptocurrency. The exploit was active for a period of four hours on Sunday,” Martin McKay, CTO and Data Security Officer, Texthelp, says.
McKay also noted that, although the issue has been addressed, Browsealoud will remain offline until Tuesday, so that customers could be informed on the issue. He also pointed out that no other Texthelp products have been affected.
“A security review will be conducted by an independent security consultancy. The investigation is ongoing, and customers will receive a further update when the security investigated has been completed,” McKay concluded.
UK’s National Cyber Security Centre also said they were examining the incident.
“The affected service has been taken offline, largely mitigating the issue. Government websites continue to operate securely. At this stage there is nothing to suggest that members of the public are at risk,” the NCSC said.
However, it appears that the issue might have not been completely resolved, as Helme points out on Twitter. The researcher claims that even today the malicious script attempts to load when accessing the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office website, likely from cache. This means that returning visitors might still be impacted.