Atlanta Working 'Around The Clock' To Fight Off Ransomware Attack

Ruben Fields
March 31, 2018

The city of Atlanta's 8,000 employees got the word on Tuesday that they had been waiting for: It was OK to turn their computers on. Conceivably, it's possible to hold a city's power or water for literal ransom in the very near future.

Like other ransomware attacks, this virus crippled computers and wireless networks and blocked access to important data. Wi-fi at the Atlanta airport is a non-starter. Last month, the city of Leeds, Ala., paid ransomware hackers $12,000 to release data in a similar attack.

Although Atlanta officials have not yet identified those behind the attack, an Atlanta-based security firm called Dell SecureWorks, which is helping the city investigate the attack, pointed to a group called SamSam, according to The New York Times. The ransom for Atlanta's cyberattack was about $51,000 and left the city's network was in bad shape.

City officials first discovered the ransomware attack on March 22, forcing all municipal employees to shut down their computers and stopping a host of resident services.

"This situation represents a significant level of preventable risk exposure to the city", the audit said.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms prioritizing cybercsecurity said, "There's a lot of work that needs to be done with our digital infrastructure in the city of Atlanta and we know that year after year, that it's something that we have to focus on and certainly this has sped things up".

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Analysts suspect that the SamSam hacking group is responsible. Over the past decade, dozens of online cybercriminal outfits - and even some nation states, including North Korea and Russian Federation - have taken up similar tactics on a larger scale, inflicting digital paralysis on victims and demanding increasing amounts of money.

All of that data-and likely more-is trapped behind an encrypted pay wall with a price-tag the city government is simply, at least so far, unwilling to pay.

As of Monday, employees in five of the city's 13 departments were performing their jobs "manually", or are not able to function as efficiently as they have in the past.

"You're still seeing ripple effects from this ransomware attack", he added. The attack disrupted 300,000 computers in 150 nations, causing billions of dollars of damage.

Nearly 25 percent of local governments in the United States have experienced cyberattacks.

Yet less than half the local governments surveyed said they had developed a formal cybersecurity policy, and only 34 percent said they had a written strategy to recover from breaches. This really is an attack on our government, which means this is an attack on all of us and we just want to continue to be thoughtful, and will continue to be thoughtful to make sure that as a city that we are doing all that we need to do to make sure that we are secure going forward, Ms. Bottoms told Atlanta's WSB-TV Monday. At fault? Mysterious ransomware that has, for the first time, crippled a major USA city. It worked for many years.

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