In March 2018 a ransom-ware attack locked out the City of Atlanta’s municipal government staff from their computer systems. This attack was described as one of the most sustained and consequential cyber-attacks ever mounted against a major American city administration (Weise, 2018).
Ransom-ware is a type of malicious software developed by those with criminal intent. If downloaded into IT systems, the software is programmed to lock a target’s computer or network, blocking access to important systems and data. The threat usually contained within ransom-ware attacks is that the locked information will be irrevocably damaged or destroyed if the demand is not met within a prescribed timeframe.
Ransom-ware demands tend to be relatively small in comparison to the financial standing of the target organisation. For example, the sum involved in the Atlanta attack was reported to be $51,000 (O'Donnell, L. 2018).
A 2016 survey of Chief Information Officers in the USA found that obtaining ransoms was the primary motivation for nearly one third of all attacks on a city or county government. Fewer than half of the local governments surveyed reported a formal cyber-security policy was in place. (ICMA, 2018).
Specific targets for this new wave of ransom attack are large public service providers such as universities, hospitals and police departments; organisations that have large incomes, but no scope for going off-line for days or weeks to invoke structured IT disaster recovery procedures.
But the major significance of ransom attacks in the public sector is the immediate disruption caused to municipal services as residents may not be able to access important information, pay taxes, fees, or fines online, report potholes or make complaints via the organisation’s website. The financial consequences of a cyber-attack can be far greater than the ransom demand.
Events such as these serve as reminders of the importance of the need to robustly protect our organisations from the continuing threat posed by the methods of modern-day criminality.
Based on Freedom of Information requests, Big Brother Watch found that UK local authorities have experienced in excess of 98 million cyber-attacks over five years. At least one in four councils experienced some form of cyber security breach between 2013 and 2017 (Big Brother watch, 2018).
Local authorities will be required to report breaches of the rights and freedoms of individuals to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) under the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Gallagher Bassett has a partnership arrangement with Broadgate Consultants for the provision of a Cyber Risk Health Check. This service falls outside of the elective day’s arrangement and there is a fee payable for this service. The Health Check provides clients with a brief review of their current cyber protection levels and provides them with recommendations to strengthen their cyber resilience. The Health check itself will be a blend of meetings, an online assessment, a review of existing documentation and a final report presentation.
- USA Today. 2018. Atlanta hit by ransomware attack, city employees told not to turn on computers. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/03/23/atlanta-hit-ransomware-attack-cityemployees-told-not-turncomputers/452846002/. [Accessed 13 April 2018]
- O'Donnell, L. (2018). Ransomware Attack Cripples Several Atlanta City Systems. [online] Threatpost | The first stop for security news. Available at: https://threatpost.com/ransomware-attackcripples-several-atlanta-citysystems/130739/ [Accessed 13 April 2018] https://icma.org/sites/default/files/309075_2016%20cybersecurity%20survey_summary%20report_final.pdf
- Cybersecurity 2016 Survey. (2018). [ebook] Maryland: ICMA. Available at: https://icma.org/sites/default/files/309075_2016%20cybersecurity%20survey_summary%20report_final.pdf [Accessed 16 April 2018]
- Cyber attacks in local authorities. (2018). [ebook] Big Brother Watch. Available at: https://bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2018/02/Cyber-attacksin-local-authorities.pdf [Accessed 16 April 2018]
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