Riviera Beach, a city of 6 million on Florida's eastern coast, recently found itself in the grip of hackers who brought down its 911 and email system. Their attack started with a simple email to the police department in May, whose attachment contained a virus that quickly infected computers on the network. However, what the city did next is what's newsworthy - they paid the $600,000 ransom to the hackers to get their system back. At this time, it's unknown if the hackers held up their end of the deal. The city is also in the process of replacing computers and working with security experts to recover from the attack. It is reported that the attack on Riviera Beach is part of a larger operation to target US cities, which has cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
This case highlights how ill-prepared municipalities are to defend themselves against cyberattacks. Many have been slow to respond to the urging of government agencies to lock down their systems; barriers such as budgets, manpower, or poor city council support make it difficult to put any protections in place. But, with more and more cities losing data and systems to cyberattacks, something needs to be done.
Small cities and other government entities (such as hospitals) are a promising target to hackers - they lack the resources to fend off attackers, but may find it more economical to simply pay a ransom than hire security experts. This is what hackers are banking on, and they attack city after city until they get something to stick. There is additional concern that these attacks may be a part of something larger that is looking for holes in our safety net. Such vulnerabilities could lead to something larger, such as a large scale attack on power grids that could cripple multiple cities and emergency services in one go. Experts hope that it doesn't take a catastrophe to get cities to take notice and urge them to upgrade their security measures now.
This article was based on a June 20, 2019 Business Insider article by Sinead Baker.