Congress is Fighting Back Against Ransomware Attacks
A recent uptick in large-scale ransomware attacks has caught the attention of the United States Congress. Cyber criminals are pulling out all the stops, bringing local governments, school districts, and other publicly funded institutions to a stand-still.
In response, the federal government is rallying together with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency to fight back.
In an official statement from CISA, they stated, “Ransomware has rapidly emerged as the most visible cybersecurity risk playing out across our nation’s networks, locking up private sector organizations and government agencies alike. And that’s only what we’re seeing – many more infections are going unreported, ransoms are being paid, and the vicious ransomware cycle continues on.”
Ransomware Attacks Impact Victims Nationwide
In the last year alone, dozens of local networks have been threatened by ransomware attacks. In just the last few months, major hacking attempts have threatened the safety and privacy of millions.
- July 2019: At 4 AM, school district IT specialists in Louisiana get alerts on their phones that an unusual amount of bandwidth is being used on the network. It was soon discovered that they were hit with an attack that disabled the central office phone systems and other technology.
- August 2019: The small town of Wilmer, Texas is infected with ransomware that shuts down the entire town’s network. The criminals demand millions of dollars worth of bitcoins to put systems back online. The same day, twenty-two other rural towns receive the same message.
- September 2019: Orange County, New York is forced to delay the start of the school year due to a ransomware attack that left the district’s technology nonfunctioning.
- September 2019: Wakulla County and Holmes County, both in Florida, discover that their bus routing systems and emails are infected with ransomware and held for $750,000. Holmes County pays half of that amount to get their systems back online.
In April, the US Senate approved the DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act, which will help fund the Department of Homeland Security’s new incident response teams. These teams will serve cities, schools districts, and municipal networks in protecting them from cyberattacks.
Senator Rob Portman, who helped create the bill, is enthusiastic about its predicted success. In a statement published on his website, he said, “Our cyber response teams play an important role in protecting against cyber threats, reducing cybersecurity risks, and helping to get our cyber infrastructure back up and running after an attack occurs.”
So, what does this mean for victims of ransomware attacks?
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson thinks that it will bring low-budget small towns the resources they need to secure their network:
“You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t know how to respond to a suspicious email, and a lot of these attacks begin with an act of spear-phishing, somebody opened an email or an attachment they shouldn’t have opened, so simply raising the awareness among people we entrust with the system goes a long way.”
For now, individuals and businesses alike should be wary of suspicious emails and other attempts to hack into network systems. Only open attachments from senders that you are sure are legitimate, keep your passwords protected, and use multi-factor authentication to create more barriers to entry for cyber criminals.