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Ransomware Attacks Crippling US Counties and Stone Mountain Park Association

April 19, 2019,

Ransomware Attack on Stone Mountain Memorial Association

On Thursday, April 11th, 2019, a state-owned organisation that oversees Stone Mountain Park experienced a ransomware attack. Its representative, John Bankhead, stated that the cyberattack did not affect the park, with impacts limited on the organisation only. According to the spokesperson, the association is working closely with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Technology Authority to resolve issues that came out as a result of the attack.

So far, sensitive data like credit card details have not been compromised, which often occurs if ransomware finds its way within a system. In many cases, such attacks would use weaknesses that organisations have within their defence systems. Attackers would then proceed by encrypting data and locking key functions. Hackers would demand a ransom (usually in cryptocurrency) in exchange for an encryption key.

Since sensitive information remained safe, Bankhead mentioned that it will take about a week for the association to overcome the situation. However, in many other cases of ransomware attacks, such as with Atlanta, decrypting the system can take months to finalise.

 

“Information not Compromised by Ransomware,” Albany Officials Claim

In a similar manner to Stone Mountain, officials of Albany, New York, announced that city’s information remains safe amidst the ransomware attack. In March 2019, the cyberattack breached municipal government’s defences, causing massive data loss. Mayor Kathy Sheehan and the city’s administrative services commissioner Rachel McEneny stated that specialists are working on mending the caused damage.

So far, officials made no moves to pay off ransoms set by cybercriminals. Most services are still fully functional with exceptions being birth and marriage certificates. Both representatives expressed the belief that data is recoverable.

 

From the standpoint of mission-critical data and information we feel confident that anything we need to recover, we’ll be able to recover.

 

The type of ransomware attack is yet to be revealed by the organisation, with conflicting information coming out from Albany Police Officers Union and city council. On one side, Sheehan and McEneny reassured the public that no law-enforcement services have been cut off. On the other hand, police representatives provided contradicting claims, stating that officers did not have access to their email, shift-scheduling and the computers inside patrol cars.

Additionally, the city council is still unable to provide birth and marriage certificates. For such services, authorities referred users to nearby jurisdictions.

Another incident saw one police officer experiencing bank funds theft for the second time in three months. However, city officials commented that the police officer got his money back, while previous phishing attack is to blame for the incident.

According to Thomas MacLellan, Symantec’s director of policy and government affairs, governmental authorities are withholding information from the public for “tactical reasons.” The analysis concluded that federal law enforcement agencies provided a directive to do so as part of their strategy. Smaller communities like Albany are becoming a prime target for cybercriminals, with ransomware incidents occurring all over the US. Latest examples are Orange County (North Carolina), Jackson County (Georgia) and Akron (Ohio).

 

Garfield County Sees its Computers Shut Off due to Ransomware

In March 2019, the Garfield County experienced a ransomware attack, resulting in shut down of the network for weeks. More recently, on Thursday, April 11th, the county representatives succumbed to the hackers’ demands, paying ransom for data decryption. Bitcoin was used as a medium for payment, proving the fact that attack was very severe, locking in all important functions of the local government.

Garfield County Attorney Barry Huntington mentioned in a statement that “all of our data had been taken,” expressing just how strong the attack was. The attack started out through a phishing email, clicked by one of the employees. The ransomware continued on to lock down the entire system while officials were left baffled over the lost files.

 

The Assessor’s Office, the Recorder’s Office, some of the files had been taken and we didn’t know how or why. Eventually, we received an email stating that some terrorists had taken our information and if we wanted it back, we had to pay them.

 

Although the FBI did involve itself, results during the agonising few weeks were not satisfactory, with services still being locked. Many other counties experienced similar issues and only a few retrieved their data without a ransom payment. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeffrey Collins stated: “We have had other local cities who’ve been infected, a similar situation where they’re scrambling to find their backups and restore their files.”

Police representatives stated that backup of data sets is one of the best security measures for organisations and individuals. Holding information elsewhere can provide relief in situations where services are immediately needed.

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