The FBI Visited WPP Media Network GroupM to Investigate a Cyberattack

Incident described as a failed hacking attempt

GroupM also experienced a massive cyberattack in 2017.
GroupM/Getty Images

GroupM, the world’s largest media buying network, fended off a cyberattack last week, according to three sources who spoke to Adweek on condition of anonymity.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York field office visited the WPP organization’s headquarters at 3 World Trade Center in order to investigate the attack, according to one party with direct knowledge of the matter.

WPP declined to confirm or deny the incident.

“Like all major companies we are constantly subject to attempts to circumvent our controls and protections,” said a spokesperson. “There have been no material consequences of any such activity in recent weeks or months. We do not comment on law enforcement activities.”

The FBI did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment Thursday, and the precise nature and scale of the incident are unclear at this time.

A source within GroupM told Adweek that the network’s IT team had enough information about the coming attack to prepare and prevent the would-be hackers from successfully accessing its databases. Another source said employees later assured clients that the incident was only an attempted hacking and that no true data breach had occurred.

This development comes almost exactly two years after a massive cyberattack designed to take down the Ukrainian government effectively knocked out the IT systems at several WPP agencies around the world, along with the systems of several other European corporations such as Russia’s state oil company Rosneft.

As a result, many WPP agencies’ email systems went down, and employees were advised to log off their computers. Sources later told Adweek that Macs were unaffected while all staffers using the Windows operating system continued to experience technical problems.

According to a person who worked as a top WPP media executive at the time, the attack was related to Bitcoin, with hackers demanding the cryptocurrency as payment. The same individual said WPP ultimately spent a considerable amount of time and money rebuilding its computers, and former CEO Martin Sorrell pegged that total at $15 million.

Speaking at a Bloomberg event several months after the attack, Sorrell elaborated on the holding group’s strategy of shutting its systems down and communicating internally, describing such incidents as “an existential risk for all of us.”

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