Atlanta’s municipal government was recently hit with a ransomware attack by cyber criminals who were asking for $51,000 to get the city’s online systems back up and running. It’s unknown whether the ransom was paid but the city slowly restored their systems after five days during which residents were unable to pay their traffic tickets or water bills online, and travelers at the world’s busiest airport were unable to use free Wi-Fi. In a ransomware attack, malicious software cripples a victim’s computer or network and blocks access to important data until a ransom is paid to unlock it.
The Atlanta cyber attack underscores the vulnerabilities of governments and other public entities as they rely on computer networks for day-to-day operations. Indeed the FBI says ransomware attacks have been on the rise for the past three years, particularly against organizations that serve the public. This includes hospitals, school districts, state and local governments and even law enforcement.
The FBI, in 2016, received 2,673 complaints of extortion through malware attacks with losses of over $2.4 million. Last year, the number of reports increased to about 3,000, with losses remaining at about the same level. Data compiled by cyber security ratings company BitSight from a 2016 report analyzing government, health care, finance, retail, education and utilities concluded that education institutions are most likely to be on the receiving end of a ransomware attack. They are three times as likely to get hit, as are the health care sector, and more than 10 times as likely as financial institutions. In addition, according to the study, government entities, from local to federal agencies, have the second-lowest security rating and the second-highest rate of ransomware attacks.
In fact, less than half of the local governments surveyed said they had developed a formal cyber security policy, and only 34% said they had a written strategy to recover from breaches.
The FBI’s policy is for entities not to pay the ransom. "Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity," wrote FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor in a 2016 report on rising ransomware attacks. “Additionally, [the ransomware] doesn't guarantee an organization that it will get its data back— we've seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom," Trainor said.
According to experts, government officials need to get more aggressive about preventive measures, such as training employees to spot and sidestep “phishing” attempts meant to dupe them into opening the digital door for ransomware.
Equally critical to stepping up cyber security among public entities is having strong Cyber insurance in place. RPS can assist you with designing a Cyber program that will meet the needs of your insured. Give us a call to learn more about our programs.