On October 19th, San Bernardino City Unified School District in California was the victim of a ransomware attack that locked access to some district files. A hacking of a school district’s system might seem odd, but there have been upwards of 62 ransomware attacks at school districts this year alone.
Ransomware is malicious software (also known as malware) that is made to block access to a computer system or data until the victim pays a ransom. Cybercriminals often implant it through phishing emails or it is placed into a website so that the visitor of the site will become infected.
These attacks can cause data to be lost, and even if the ransom is paid, the victim may never get the files back that were locked. Although the ransomware attack at this California School District only caused a minor inconvenience, requiring attendance to be taken manually for the day, we see potentially more devastating effects of these attack when places like 911 dispatch centers are targeted.
In March of this year, a 911 dispatch center in a small Georgia town was hit with a ransomware attack that shut down all of their computers. Near the same time, the county jail lost the ability to open cell doors electronically, and sheriff’s deputies couldn’t access their laptops.
Our society has become so dependent on technology, that even though we used to do all of these very important jobs without it, we no longer have the tools needed to do so because they haven’t been used in so long that none of these places have them anymore, like ticket books for hand-written tickets.
Other places affected by ransomware attacks include Lake City, FL; Riviera Beach, FL; Baltimore, MD; Cleveland Hopkins International Airport; Augusta, Maine; Tallahassee, FL; Albany, NY; Jackson County, GA; Atlanta, GA; and the Colorado Department of Transportation, shown in the map below.
Notice that I didn’t mention exact places for most of these attacks. That’s because they were attacks that affected many important city systems. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. The idea that a computer virus can cripple multiple city offices in such an effective way so quickly is definitely very concerning.
Because cybercriminals tend to look for the best opportunities to get the ransom they want when they attack, the next big concern for ransomware attacks could be Cyber Monday. If a retailer’s systems were down for any period of time that day, they would be losing a lot of money and may be more willing to pay the ransom and do so quickly to get their system back up and running.
As these cybercriminals continue to develop their craft, we as a nation must do our job to keep pushing for better data protection and information security, as well as be educated as tech users to make sure that we are as safe as we can be as individuals online. It only takes one person to get caught in the sticky web of malware attacks for a whole city to be left in the dark.