Friday, November 15, 2019
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Hackers shut down 911 in Baltimore, gov’t in Atlanta

News reports from Atlanta last week and Baltimore yesterday say that hackers broke into computers that manage critical operations in the two cities and shut down those operations temporarily.

City officials in Atlanta told city workers to turn their computers back on for the first time yesterday, CNN reported. The cyber breach was known to have started on or before March 22, five days earlier.

The city had to cancel court dates, suspend applications for jobs within the city government, and notify employees via Twitter that “employee data has been compromised.”

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told the media on Monday that hackers had asked for $51,000, a form of hacking known as “ransomware,” whereupon payment of the specified amount will trigger the hackers to release their hold on computer systems. But there has been no formal confirmation of a ransom amount, CNN noted.

So even though the city’s computers have been turned back on, residents were still unable to pay their traffic tickets or water bills online, and they couldn’t report potholes or graffiti on a city website, according to a report Tuesday in the New York Times.

“We are dealing with a hostage situation,” the Times quoted Ms Lance Bottoms as saying earlier this week.

Baltimore 9-1-1 system was also held hostage

Hackers forced Baltimore’s metropolitan computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system to shut down on Sunday, the Baltimore Sun reported. Like the assault in Atlanta, it was also a ransomware attack, the paper reported.

“We were able to successfully isolate the threat and ensure that no harm was done to other servers or systems across the city’s network,” the Sun quoted Frank Johnson, chief information officer in the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, as saying. “Once all systems were properly vetted, CAD was brought back online.”

But unlike Atlanta, no reports of compromised employee data came with the news releases out of the Maryland city. Functioning of the CAD system was just compromised, and the FBI reportedly lent some technical assistance to the city to investigate the breach.

Voxitatis reported last month that hackers were repeatedly trying to break into our computer systems. We documented more than 1.1 million (failed) assaults on one of our servers between February 1 and February 24. The bots hackers use are persistent if unintelligent.

Nationwide, I can’t imagine any important functions aren’t under siege. If hackers can come after a lonely nonprofit like Voxitatis, they can go after bigger and more important targets that have a serious impact on people’s lives, such as school websites, information systems, or large-scale test-delivery platforms. None are safe, so once again, as I did last month, I implore people to take steps to secure your servers. I can’t say this often enough.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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