While cyberattacks aren’t new, there has been a concerning trend growing throughout 2019. This year has seen several cities and municipal governments fall victim to malware attacks. On Friday, New Orleans announced that it became the most recent target.
The Louisiana city entered a state of emergency following a ransomware attack by unknown operators. After detecting suspicious activity, the city shut down all of its computers and is now working with pen and paper methods until systems are resolved. Fortunately, New Orleans hasn’t had to concede to any ransom demands thus far.
Ransomware in the Bayou
In the early morning hours on Friday, city employees detected strange activity on the network. A few hours later, there was a noticeable increase in that activity as remote hackers continued to assault the city’s systems. Employees noticed everything from phishing attempts to ransomware according to New Orleans’ head of IT, Kim LaGrue.
After identifying the threat and confirming that it was under attack, the city shut down its computers and servers. It appears that the preventative shutdown has done its job. There are currently no reports of stolen data or malware-locked systems. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell says that no ransomware requests have been made to the city at this time.
Of course, that could change if it is discovered that important data was stolen or compromised. However, the city hopes that by shutting down its systems such a problem can be avoided.
Fortunately, New Orleans is no stranger to working through this type of situation. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city put a system in place to ensure that all essential departments are able to continue operating offline.
Collin Arnold, director of Homeland Security, said, “If there is a positive about being a city that has been touched by disasters and essentially been brought down to zero in the past, [it] is that our plans and activity from a public safety perspective reflect the fact that we can operate with internet, without city networking.”
The attack on New Orleans is actually the second ransomware breach of public systems in the state. Back in November, the state-level Louisiana government fell victim to a ransomware attack. Officials were forced to deactivate government websites and a state of emergency was also declared following the incident.
These attacks join a list of other municipalities and state governments that have been targeted in the past year including Pensacola, Florida, Baltimore, and Jackson County, Georgia. Over the summer, a total of 23 Texas agencies also succumbed to cyberattacks.
Meanwhile, after its files were locked, the city of Riviera Beach, Florida paid hackers $600,000 to regain access.
Governments are increasingly becoming a target for cyberattacks due to their relatively weak cybersecurity and lack of resources. Coupled with the fact that they are often willing to pay to regain access to their networks due to the sensitive data stored on them, hackers see these local authorities as a source for a major payday.
Sadly, that trend isn’t likely to die on its own. As New Orleans slowly recovers from its ransomware attack, it is only a matter of time until another city falls victim.