After last month’s ransomware attack that crippled the city of Baltimore, another series of attacks has costed two Florida towns over one million dollars combined in ransoms to regain control of their municipal computer systems. This is the latest in a worldwide epidemic of hackers extorting cities, villages, and townships for ransom money.
The first town affected was Riviera Beach, a suburb just north of Palm Beach. A small town with a population just over 35,000 is not what many people think would be the target of a highly sophisticated online attack, however, small towns are an increasingly attractive target for hackers.
The hackers got in after an employee at the police department clicked an infected link in a phishing email and were then able to shut down most of the cities systems including email, online utility payment, village payroll, and payments to city vendors. The city was able to recover only after paying the $600,000 ransom (in the form of Bitcoin) and spending almost a million dollars on technology upgrades.
Shortly after the attack on Riviera Beach, Lake City fell victim to a similar attack where the virus was introduced to their computer system via phishing email as well. Along with shutting down the cities email, utility payment and payroll, this group of hackers, believed to be separate from the Riviera Beach attack, shut down the cities police dispatch system, leaving them struggling to allocate police resources.
Jason Rebholz, a principal for Moxfive, a technology service firm, who tracks ransomware payments and has helped victims of similar attacks said, “The complexity and severity of these ransomware attacks just continues to increase.” The amount of money asked by hackers has increased tremendously in the last few years and is a testament to hackers sophisticated ability to target government agencies.
Cities and towns are not the only victims to the recent tidal wave of hacker using ransomware. In 2018 a virus disrupted the flight information system, baggage displays and email at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and the same virus infected the Port of San Diego, costing millions. Hospitals are also a prime target for hackers due to the large amounts of personal data they store.
Three elements prevent organizations from falling victim to ransomware attacks.
Training employees to spot hazardous emails and reporting them to their managers can prevent a majority of these types of cyber-attacks. It is important to have regular discussions with employees about good internet practices. Important practices include reporting spam emails, avoiding suspicious links and online ads, and regularly changing and strengthening passwords.
Updated Technology & Protective Measures
Many ransomware attacks that hit cities or businesses are allowed to occur due to outdated security technologies like firewalls or anti-virus software. In today’s day and age, hackers can scan thousands of organizations looking for specific vulnerabilities that only the latest software and hardware can prevent. This is why it is important to consult with your IT provider regularly to insure that your internet technologies are up to date and your data is kept safe.
Offsite Data Backups
If either city had been backing up their data to either the cloud, offsite servers, or a combination of both, they would have had a recent backup to fall back on and continue operations with the only data being lost was that since the last back up. Trusted IT partners like Current Technologies can help implement regularly scheduled offsite backups and help you restore your data in the event of a would be catastrophe.