Ransomware Attacks Servers in Lake City, Florida

Rafael Augusto B. L. de Oliveira | @ancient_scrolls

Mayor Stephen Witt will be forced to pay a ransom of $460K after hackers locked Lake City’s servers. Since then, the local community and politicians have been unable to access their emails and make online payments through Lake City’s systems. This is the second time in less than a week that a city in Florida has become a target for hackers. A few days ago, Riviera Beach’s city council decided to pay 65 bitcoins (USD $592K) to hackers who encrypted their files and locked them out of their servers.

The Lake City Ransomware Attack

According to Witt, a City Hall employee who accidentally opened an email with malware is responsible. After the rootkit infected one computer, it spread across the city hall network, encrypting data and locking them out of their servers. 

The FBI advised against paying the ransom the criminals demanded. However, not wanting to deal with data losses and a server wipe, Lake City’s mayor decided to give in. Before making the decision, he consulted the Florida city hall’s IT Director and a security vendor.

A Lack of Cybersecurity Experts

“I would’ve never dreamed this could’ve happened, especially in a small town like this,” – Mayor Stephen Witt of Lake City

The ever-growing frequency of hacker attacks against governmental institutions has raised some concerns among politicians about relying entirely on technology to do business and store records. These cyber-attacks have also brought to light the need for more cybersecurity experts. Many local governments lack these officials, thus making them “sitting ducks” to expert hackers looking for an easy buck. As a consequence, they’re a frequent target for record theft or deletion.

During a meeting in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance said that the federal government should offer more aid against cybercriminals. 

What Is a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware is a collection of sophisticated software that allows someone to encrypt data in a computer they don’t have legal access to. However, this software has never had any noble goal of keeping users safe. Rather, creators made it with malicious intentions. Ransomware is mostly used for blackmailing and extortion, during which the attacker threatens to not only lock but also wipe the victim’s data. Hackers offer a way out for the victims if they pay a hefty fee or comply with other demands.

These attacks usually take advantage of social engineering techniques or flaws in the victim’s network. One of the most famous examples of such attacks is the “WannaCry” ransomware attack of May 2017. The hack stole data from computers across the globe.

To avoid capture, ransomware criminals usually ask for victims to pay them in cryptocurrency. This makes it harder for law enforcement to trace the payment and hackers. This is largely due to the decentralized nature of the blockchain.

As our dependency on technological gadgets increases, virtual attacks may become more common. We are reaching a point where cybercriminals can cause as much harm as typical criminals. During an interview for CNBC, Mark Orland, CFTO for the cyber protection division of Raytheon, stated that “ransomware is much more lucrative today”. He believes that high-dollar payouts like the recent Florida ones will only increase in the future until the world starts taking cybersecurity more seriously.

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