The latest incident follows a new report which finds that the US was hit by an “unprecedented and unrelenting barrage” of ransomware attacks in 2019.
The City of New Orleans’ Mayor, LaToya Cantrell, has declared a state of emergency, following a cyber attack.
NOLA Ready, New Orleans’ emergency preparedness campaign, managed by the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, said suspicious activity was detected on the city’s network at 5am on December 13. Activity indicating a cybersecurity incident was detected around 11am and “as a precaution,” the IT department began shutting down city servers and computers.
Speaking at a press conference, Mayor Cantrell confirmed the incident was a ransomware attack, although the city hasn’t received a ransom request yet, according to the latest reports.
Mayor Cantrell confirmed the incident was a ransomware attack, although the city hasn’t received a ransom request yet, according to the latest reports.
NOLA Ready said that emergency communications have not been affected. Public safety cameras continue to record and footage can be retrieved.
The city is working with state and federal law enforcement partners to investigate the incident, including Louisiana State Police, Louisiana National Guard, FBI New Orleans and the US Secret Service.
Last week, Bleeping Computer reported that operators behind the Maze Ransomware claimed responsibility for the cyber attack affecting the City of Pensacola, Florida, and said they had demanded a $1 million ransom for a decryptor.
A new report from security software company Emsisoft finds that in 2019, the US was hit by an “unprecedented and unrelenting barrage” of ransomware attacks that impacted at least 948 government agencies, educational establishments and healthcare providers at a potential cost of more than $7.5 billion.
Municipalities targeted included Baltimore, Riviera Beach and New Bedford. Outside the US, the City of Johannesburg in South Africa was hacked in October.
"Ransomware incidents increased sharply in 2019 due to organisations’ existing security weaknesses and the development of increasingly sophisticated attack mechanisms specifically designed to exploit those weaknesses."
In some cases, bills and payments couldn’t be issued or paid; email and phone systems went down; and tax deadlines had to be pushed back. In other instances, emergency patients had to be redirected to different hospitals; surgeries and procedures were cancelled or delayed; and emergency and surveillance services were affected.
According to Emsisoft: “Ransomware incidents increased sharply in 2019 due to organisations’ existing security weaknesses and the development of increasingly sophisticated attack mechanisms specifically designed to exploit those weaknesses.
“Combined, these factors created a near-perfect storm. In previous years, organisations with sub-standard security often escaped unpunished; in 2019, far more were made to pay the price, both figuratively and literally.”
Emsisoft is calling for urgent action, including improved security standards and oversight; more funding for cybersecurity risk mitigation – either from redistributing internal funds or from state or federal sources; the introduction of reporting requirements so intelligence on how ransomware attacks happen can be gathered and shared; and better public-private collaboration.
Further, Emsisoft recommends legislative restrictions on ransom payments. Earlier this year, the US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution urging cities not to pay assailants after cyber attacks. However, in some cases, public agencies choose to pay ransoms because they see doing so as less costly than other recovery options. In July, the City of Lake City in Florida agreed to pay 42 bitcoin (around $460,000) in ransom, following a malware attack. Lake City was responsible for $10,000, due to its insurance policy.
"The question of whether to use tax dollars to pay off extortionists is not a run-of-the-mill business decision and the cheapest option is not necessarily the best option."
Leaders of Riviera Beach, Florida, also voted to pay almost $600,000 (65 bitcoin) in ransom to hackers who had paralysed the city’s computer systems. Larger cities, such as Baltimore and Atlanta, have refused to pay ransom but the cyber attacks are expected to ultimately cost them millions.
Emsisoft’s The State of Ransomware in the US report notes: “The question of whether to use tax dollars to pay off extortionists is not a run-of-the-mill business decision and the cheapest option is not necessarily the best option.
“By paying ransoms, public agencies are incentivising cyber-criminals and helping perpetuate the cycle of cyber-crime. While a blanket ban may not be practical, government should certainly consider legislating to prevent public agencies paying ransoms when other recovery options are available to them.”
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