Pharmaceutical giant Merck – whose U.S. headquarters is in Kenilworth, N.J. — said Tuesday that its computer network was compromised as part of a massive cyber-attack that struck Europe.
Merck admitted it was initially unable to contain the malicious data-scrambling software, believed to have been started by ransom-seeking hackers who sent a time-activated virus via Microsoft operating systems Windows XP and Windows 10.
“We confirm our company’s computer network was compromised today as part of global hack,” the company said via Twitter shortly before noon. “Other organizations have also been affected.”
The company said in a second Tweet: “We are investigating the matter and will provide additional information as we learn more.”
The attack’s epicenter appeared to be the Ukraine, where the state power grid, banks, an airport and government offices were disrupted at the start of business Tuesday.
Merck has offices in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s prime minister said the attack was unprecedented but that “vital systems haven’t been affected.”
Merck’s confirmation was the first by a U.S.-based company that it was dealing with the malicious malware threat Tuesday.
The Russian anti-virus firm Kaspersky Lab said its analysis showed that there had been about 2,000 attacks – most in Ukraine, Russia and Poland.
Russia’s Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.
“We are talking about a cyberattack,” reported Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based shipper. “It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad.”
The number of companies and agencies reportedly affected by the malicious campaign appeared to be piling up fast.
Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblaad said that container ship terminals in Rotterdam run by a unit of Maersk were also affected.
Rosneft said that the company narrowly avoided major damage.
The virus is believed to be ransomware – a piece of malicious software that shuts down a computer system and then demands money to fix the problem.
The world is still recovering from a previous outbreak of ransomware, called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, which spread rapidly using digital break-in tools originally created by the U.S. National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.