A ransomware attack March 22 on the city of Atlanta devastated its systems, and served as a reminder of the security problems that exist surrounding Internet devices.
The cyber attackers demanded about $51,000 in bitcoin to release control over the city's computer systems. The ransomware shut down workers' computers and printers and prevented the public from paying traffic tickets, water bills, reporting potholes or graffiti. Police officers weren't able to fill out reports online. Courts were unable to validate warrants and there are fears that many of the city's digital files will never be restored.
At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the WiFi is still disabled. "We're dealing with a hostage situation," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told the New York Times.
Atlanta officials have not said whether they paid the ransomware, but what is clear is that these kinds of attacks have been worsening, and will likely only continue to escalate.
The FBI, according to NPR, received about 3,000 ransomware complaints, totalling $2.4 million in 2017. The year prior, the FBI received 2,673, at about the same cost. Cybersecurity company BitSight said that educational institutions, because of lax security, and sensitive student data, are the preferred target of cyberattackers. Schools are three times more likely to receive a ransomware threat than the health care sector and 10 times more likely than financial institutions.
The company also said that government entities at all levels have the second-highest rate of ransomware attacks. Atlanta began turning on its computers again on Tuesday, but city officials have not said whether they paid the ransomware. The FBI urges victims not to pay.
"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, according to NPR.
Atlanta is the largest city in the U.S. to get hit with a ransomware attack, but it is not alone. The New Yorker reports that FedEx, Britain’s public-health system, Boeing, and other smaller private and public entities have been hit in 2017 and 2018.
Atlanta city officials said it would put into place more sophisticated strategies to thwart hackers. IT staff would be retrained and computers would be rebuilt. Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook, however, is skeptical that future attacks can be prevented.
“What I don’t want to do is spend a whole bunch of money and then have this happen again,” Shook told the New Yorker. “But I don’t know what the model for a solution is, unless it’s military-grade, nuclear-submarine-type stuff.”
The ransomware attack that hit Atlanta, called SamSam, is likely to reappear despite greater awareness. It works by exploiting security vulnerabilities and guessing weak passwords. The attackers tend to choose their targets wisely,
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