You get to work one day and your computer is gone.
What I mean is, it’s still there physically, on your desk. But, when you turn it on, your file names look like gibberish.
You can’t access any of them.
What’s worse, it is not only your computer. Many of your colleagues are having the same problem.
This is what happened to some of Atlanta City’s employees on 22 March.
As it turns out, the town had been the victim of a ransomware cyberattack. Ransomware is when hackers block access to your computer and encrypt your files until you pay up.
Many of the workers had to go back to using old school tools for days to do their jobs. That is, back to pen and paper.
As The New York Times reported:
‘Some major systems were not affected, including those for 911 calls and control of wastewater treatment. But other arms of city government have been scrambled for days.
‘The Atlanta Municipal Court has been unable to validate warrants. Police officers have been writing reports by hand. The city has stopped taking employment applications.’
Atlanta wasn’t the only city under attack
The attack has shown how vulnerable our systems are, and how a cyberattack can cripple normal operations.
What about people’s data? Well, according to The New York Times, the city of Atlanta doesn’t think hackers have gotten a hold of it…but they can’t be completely sure…
Hackers were asking for US$51,000 worth of Bitcoin to supply the digital keys that unlocked the encrypted files.
The truth is that it has been an interesting couple of weeks for cyber security.
Atlanta wasn’t the only American city hit. A few days before, hackers hit Baltimore’s 911 dispatch system, forcing it to shut down for a short period.
As GovTech reports:
‘Baltimore’s 911 dispatch system was hacked Sunday morning, shutting down automated dispatches for 911 and 311 calls, after a port to the internet was inadvertently left unprotected. Hackers running automated scans looking for such vulnerabilities found and exploited it, much like thieves who check for unlocked doors and windows.’
The attack shut down their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system automatically fills in 911 callers’ information and location. It also sends the closest emergency responders to the scene.
Under a situation of stress, this can be a handy tool. Dispatchers had to revert back to taking 911 calls by hand.
And a couple of days ago there was the global attack on routers…
Around 200,000 Cisco switches across the world fell victim of a cyberattack.
Most affected were Europe, India and the US.
In Iran, the attack left computers displaying a US flag and the message ‘Don’t mess with our elections…’. Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi kindly shared a picture of a screen on his Twitter feed:
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Cisco warned companies about the cyberattack
The thing is, Cisco had issued a warning about this vulnerability before the attack. They had even provided a patch…
Yet some of the companies responded too slow, which left them wide open as prime targets.
For a long time, cybersecurity has been an afterthought. We don’t think of it…until something happens.
Cybersecurity was an afterthought during the WannaCry cyber-attack last year too.
The WannaCry ransomware got released on 12 May 2017.
Within a day, the malware attacked 230,000 computers in over 150 countries. It also hit key infrastructure services.
Yet two months before, in March 2017, Microsoft had issued a warning on the vulnerability and a patch to solve it.
As you can see in the graph below, it took until the exploit made headlines for companies to accelerate implementation of the patch.
Source: CISCO 2018 Annual Cybersecurity Report
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In recent weeks, there has also been attacks on key infrastructure, in particular, US natural gas pipelines.
As The New York Times reports:
‘A cyberattack on a shared data network forced four of the nation’s natural-gas pipeline operators to temporarily shut down computer communications with their customers over the last week.
‘No gas service was interrupted, the companies said, and the interruption of customer transactions was merely a precaution. It was unclear whether any customer data was stolen.
‘The attack highlighted the potential vulnerability of the nation’s energy system, cyberexperts say. Beyond consumer and business data — energy companies possess much proprietary information about their holdings, trading strategies and exploration and production technologies — the increasing dependence of pipeline infrastructure on digital systems makes them a particularly ripe target.’
With international tensions rising, protecting critical infrastructure is key.
The more connected we are to the internet, the more risks increase and the more proactive we will need to be to protect ourselves.
That’s why I think cybersecurity spending is set to increase in the future.
Editor, Markets & Money