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What We Can Learn from Ransomware Attacks on Cities

Ransomware is a style of cyberattack that’s becoming more frequent and more sophisticated.

“Ransomware attacks have quickly become a preferred method of hacking with the emergence of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies that enable hackers to receive their ransom without being tracked and identified,” explains Brookings’ Niam Yaraghi.

“The popularity of cryptocurrency has soared in recent years with fluctuations in their value. As these currencies become more mainstream, so does the incentive of hackers to make a quick buck through ransomware attacks,” he says.

This past summer, cities across the country were hit with these attacks. Forty cities, to be exact. Ransoms ranged from $130,000 in LaPorte County, Indiana, to $460,000 in a Northern Florida city.

Baltimore, Maryland, however, refused to pay the ransom – which law enforcement recommends doing – but ended up paying up to $18 million in damages. The attack ended up delaying the sale of around 1,500 homes.

What we can learn

We can learn a lot, however, from the recent ransomware attacks on cities.

For one, we can expect to see more of these ransomware attacks in the future. Yaraghi argues this is because of the rising popularity of cryptocurrency. We all need to prepare – municipalities, organizations, and individuals alike.

These attacks on cities also show us that hackers go after the most vulnerable. Knowing that cities need their databases to provide critical services and typically lack a robust IT department, hackers target them to make a quick buck (or 100,000 bucks).

Similarly, if your data is not adequately protected, hackers will go after you. It’s just too easy.

“Most attacks are not targeted, but opportunistic. Hackers look for organizations and businesses that seem more vulnerable than others,” says Yaraghi, “The ones that have neglected to set basic security standards in place are more likely to be targeted for ransomware attacks.”

Putting a Plan Place

Essentially, it’s time to buckle up and get a plan in place.

“In cybersecurity, a best practice is something called defense in depth. It simply means to put up as many barriers as you can to protect yourself,” argues Carl Weisman for, “…employee training is the first barrier and anti-phishing software is the second barrier, then the third barrier has to be data backup.”

Across the board, employee training is necessary to protect you and your company’s data. Training your employees to not “fall for phish” and click on malicious links is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a ransomware attack.

“We know that somewhere between 91% and 93% of all cyberattacks start with a phishing email. And 97% of all phishing emails deliver ransomware,” Weisman contends, “ In other words, just before you get hit by a ransomware attack, someone in your organization clicked on something they shouldn’t have.”

Teaching your employees to become more aware of phishing emails is one thing, but anti-phishing software is quite another. It scans emails before they even get to your employees. The thinking is, at some point, no matter how much training they’ve received, an employee will click on a malicious link.

Cloud-based, anti-phishing software adds a safety net, “…by changing a DNS entry – which takes about 10 minutes – and rerouting all the emails to the anti-phishing software provider.”

This anti-phishing software then scans the email and follows the embedded links to identify malicious content. If this is detected, the email will not be forwarded to the intended recipient.

Most importantly, municipalities, organizations, and individuals must be continuously backing up their data to the cloud.

This is the easiest way to ensure that your data is always available to you. By doing so, you can be up and running in the days following a ransomware attack.

“No matter how good a city’s defenses,” Weisman explains, “there’s always a chance they’ll become the victim of ransomware because hackers are just too damn clever. But there’s no reason that the city’s data should ever have to be at risk.”

The same goes for you and your company’s data. Backing up your data should become a regular practice if it is not already.

Hackers are smart, but we can be smarter.

Contact our team if you want assistance in examining and strengthening your cybersecurity practices. We’re here to help.