The ransomware epidemic is growing stronger, and researchers and tech experts warn that it will get much worse. Many ransomware attacks have been launched against city governments, private businesses, and have effectively shut down the system and social services in different states across the U.S.
According to a report by a cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, the recorded attacks rose from 38 in 2017 to 53 in 2018, and researchers noted that those numbers are expected to rise in the next few years.
Ransomware is not a new phenomenon. While malware remains to be the biggest threat in cybersecurity, ransomware is gaining traction in notoriety. In a typical ransomware attack, the attacker will send a Trojan, a worm, or malware to a system — to demand payment in exchange for the remedy to the ransomware. Sometimes, attackers threaten to publish the victim’s database or other secured information hidden within its system in exchange for a ransom.
Starting from around 2012, the use of ransomware scams grown internationally. There were 181.5 million ransomware attacks in the first six months of 2018. This result marks a 229% increase over the same time in 2017.
In June 2014, vendor McAfee released data showing that it had collected more than double the number of samples of ransomware that quarter than it had in the same quarter of the previous year. CryptoLocker was particularly successful, procuring an estimated $3 million before it was taken down by authorities, and CryptoWall was determined by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to have accrued over the $18 million by June 2015.
Atlanta ransomware attack
Probably one of the most significant and most damaging ransomware attacks in recent U.S. history, Atlanta had become one of the latest victims of ransomware attacks back in March 2018. The offense has knocked almost all of the city’s agencies offline, causing most of the social services to freeze including scheduling court cases and paying utility bills online. Furthermore, the ransomware has effectively caused decades worth of official correspondence to disappear in thin air.
Reports reveal that it took the city more than $17 million in costs to recover from the devastating effects of the ransomware.
Several tech experts have said that other cities should take the case of Atlanta to be a “wake-up” call for how vulnerable local and state governments were to these types of cyber crimes – and how underprepared they are to resist them. However, it seems like these calls have fallen to deaf ears.
More and more cities are being attacked
Just over 12 months later, Baltimore is in the throes of its costly ransomware attack. Now in its sixth week, the attack has left officials unable to process payments and even respond to emails. And Baltimore is not alone. In just the last two months, there have been ransomware attacks in Greenville, North Carolina; Imperial County, California; Stuart, Florida; Cleveland, Ohio; Augusta, Maine; Lynn, Massachusetts; and Cartersville, Georgia.
Increasing security defenses in companies shifted the target to government agencies
As corporations improve their security firewalls to prevent attacks like malware and ransomware against their systems from happening, hackers have found new ways to infiltrate vulnerable municipal and city systems whose defenses are much weaker. Add to that the fact that many cities and states are starting to digitize their records and services in recent years, making their juvenile systems vulnerable to all sorts of cyber crimes.
“The government knows it needs to change, but they move slowly compared to how quickly private business can pivot to manage their exposure to a new threat,” Gary Hayslip, a cybersecurity expert who previously acted as a chief information security officer for San Diego, said. “Until it is mandated that cities, counties, and states meet a specific level of security and have to demonstrate it as is done in business for compliance periodically, government entities will continue to be low-hanging fruit and cybercriminals don’t mind eating them for lunch.”
Moreover, because of improvements in technology and the availability of information online, it has become easier for cybercriminals to launch an attack. “On the dark web, there are lots of available tools for relative novices to craft together pretty effective pieces of ransomware technology,” said Chris Kennedy, chief information security officers at cybersecurity company AttackIQ. “It’s the ‘Idiots Guide to Hacking.’”
But with the growing number of cities and state agencies falling victims to ransomware attacks, will the government now listen? Maybe.