A spate of ransomware attacks against U.S. city governments in December and January crippled the networks of some municipalities and forced the shutdown of others, causing major headaches for city employees and residents.
Ransomware attacks are among the most damaging forms of cyberattack that an organization can suffer. Some of the recent attacks were attributed to a new form of malicious software called Maze, illustrating how the problem of ransomware attacks against government entities is serious and ever-evolving.
In this article we will review the nature of these recent ransomware attacks, go over some basic security measures that individuals and organizations can take to protect themselves and discuss how cybersecurity vendors can help public sector agencies mitigate the threat of cyberattacks in general.
During the first week of December, Pensacola, Fla. was hit with a major ransomware attack that threatened the security of city communication and payment systems. City officials voluntarily took down several systems as a precaution as the cyberattack unfolded.
Maze Ransomware took over the city’s network, stole 32GB of sensitive data and then encrypted the city’s network to prevent access by authorities. The ransomware operators then demanded $1 million in payment to decrypt the network and return the data. When the city didn’t pay, the ransomware attackers began releasing the highly-sensitive stolen data to the public.
The attack, which occurred just hours after a gunman killed three people and wounded eight in a shooting at a Pensacola naval air station, did not compromise the city’s 911, fire or police services. It’s not known if the shooting and the cyberattack were connected.
On Christmas Eve, the city of Dunwoody, Ga., also suffered a cyberattack, but city officials were able to shut down their network before any data was compromised. Las Vegas fended off an attack on Jan. 7. While those cities were fortunate to have avoided serious consequences from the attacks, Pensacola was not so lucky: city officials say that some 60,000 people may have had their data exposed in the attack.
Experts in cybersecurity have noted that government agencies are at particular risk of ransomware and other attacks, due to outdated infrastructure and a general lack of cybersecurity training for employees.
“It will get worse before it gets better – far worse … [Governments are] an easy target,” Morgan Wright, chief security advisor for SentinelOne, told FOX Business. “They’ve had too many wake up calls, the problem is they keep hitting the snooze button.”
How can cities protect themselves from ransomware attacks?
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the surest ways to defend a network or system from a ransomware attack include:
- Performing regular backups of sensitive data
- Storing backups separately from main systems/networks
- Training employees in good security techniques
- Being vigilant about opening emails, links and visiting websites
Technical fixes that can be implemented to help prevent infection by ransomware include:
- Updating and patching individual computers and networks with the latest software releases
- Verifying email senders
- Using antivirus software
Here’s what DHS suggests to do if your system is targeted by ransomware:
- Isolate the infected system from other devices and shut down all networking capabilities
- Turn off other vulnerable devices
- Secure all backups
How businesses can offer ransomware protection to public sector agencies
Government agencies across the U.S. need protection from ransomware attacks. Often, public agencies must turn to third-party vendors to provide technical and training solutions in order to protect their organizations against the threat of ransomware and other cyberattacks.
Vendors that provide IT security services can easily find many bidding opportunities in the regions of their choice by becoming a member of a bid service such as BidNet. For over 30 years, BidNet has helped thousands of businesses connect with the government bid opportunities that are right for them. BidNet members receive daily email summaries of all relevant bid opportunities in their preferred geographic area, making it easy for vendors to quickly review and select the bids they want to pursue.
Ransomware and other cyberattacks have become commonplace, but the threats aren’t insurmountable. Contact BidNet today to find out how using our bid service makes it easy for qualified vendors to offer their cyber security expertise to those who need it most.