More Hackers Hitting Municipal Computer Systems

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A rising tide of hacking incidents has hit municipal systems across the US, from major cities like Atlanta to counties, tiny towns and even a library system in St. Louis, the Wall Street Journal reports. Local governments are forced to spend money on frantic efforts to recover data, system upgrades, cybersecurity insurance and, in some cases, to pay online extortionists if they can’t restore files some other way. Public-sector attacks appear to be rising faster than those in the private sector, reports the Ponemon Institute of Traverse City, Michigan. Ponemon estimates 38 percent of the public entities it samples will suffer a ransomware attack this year, up from 31 percent last year and 13 percent in 2016. “We’re right at the front end of this,” said Marshall Davies of the Alexandria, Va.-based Public Risk Management Association. Hackers are “just now coming after the public entities. They’ve been hitting the businesses for years.”

Hackers generally don’t target specific cities, but instead constantly search for vulnerabilities wherever they may occur. Hackers attacking cities aren’t typically nation states, but rather cybercriminals. Some hackers demand ransoms in poorly written English, and they typically demand to be paid in bitcoin. The FBI advises against paying, and warns that “some individuals or organizations are never provided with decryption keys after paying a ransom.” Officials in Leeds, Al., folded when faced with a ransom demand from hackers who froze the Birmingham suburb’s computer system. Everything from email to personnel records was effectively locked down, and the city of 12,000 felt powerless. “You just hold your nose and do it,” Mayor David Miller said. After being paid, the hackers provided a code that helped the city regain access to most files. Every victim asks the same question, said Jeffrey Carpenter of SecureWorks Corp., an Atlanta-based cybersecurity firm: “Should we pay the ransom?”

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