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In the field of science and technology, every action has a reaction. It is in this way, we, as a generation, move forward.

The city of Atlanta, a few months ago, had experienced a ransomware cyberattack that paralyzed its government. The attack had a direct effect on access to government websites causing approximately 6 million people to be affected. There are still ongoing efforts to get these critical systems back online.

On analysis, experts noted that these sites had a weak defense system that allowed the cyberattack to occur. Situations like these must become an example to other governments so that appropriate actions can be taken in the future, in cases of such events.

Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Bottom, described the attack as a "hostage situation". The group of the attackers, known as Samsam, encrypted the city's files and blocked access to online services. The hackers prevented the city from processing court cases and warrants, by changing the permissions in the systems. The main aim of this scenario was to demand a ransom of $ 51,000 in Bitcoin within a week.

Of course, the government officials did not agree to pay the reward, but were not completely against it either.

A few years ago, US states like North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey and Alabama were in the same predicament but ended up parting with the money. For example, the state of Alabama paid hackers $ 12,000 to regain control of their systems.

Mayor of Atlanta explains the ransomware cyberattack on the city, in March 2018

Preparation for Cyberattacks

According to Cerrudo, the chief officer of IOActive Lab and founder of the nonprofit Securing Smart Cities, every country has a responsibility - being prepared to address security gaps in light of new technologies.

When informed about the latest attack, he said, "I was annoyed and angry, because something like that could have been prevented a long time ago. If Atlanta doesn't have backups of critical information, they probably will end up paying-unless they don't care about losing it."

In the laboratory, Cerrudo hacks traffic systems in order to detect their vulnerabilities. This constitutes a highly important task for the adoption of emerging technologies. With the increasing intelligence of government systems, the probability of bugs is also more. In a world of artificial intelligence, an equilibrium between cybersecurity and hackers is evident.

Every coin has two sides. With the evolution of scientific technology, the demand for a higher level of security is warranted because of the greater possibilities of an attack.

Governments should have federal regulations, in place, for technology providers. These people will have to invest in cybersecurity, so they have appropriate protection, proportionate to the rate of development. Furthermore, a city must possess emergency plans along with specialized teams to coordinate security across its organizations.

To prevent cyberattacks, certain scenarios need to be established by governments. These situations could help minimize and recover losses if any.

In separate studies, security experts at SonicWall have adjudged cyberattacks to be among the top threats to business.

Recent Cases of Ransomware

In the past, security tools developed by NASA have been leaked. This episode is a lesson for companies to keep all their systems up to date, with the latest fixes.

In 2016, a hack in Dallas' alarm system caused pandemonium among the employees and patrons. More than 4,000 calls were made to 911, while tornado sirens were switched on for two hours.

Another example was San Francisco's railway system. The ransomware attack released passengers from their tickets, and until the problem was fixed, people rode for free. This event was comical, in the sense that the enthusiasm of the crowd concealed the real problem.

One more instance was the cyberattack on Sacramento's regional transit system in November, last year. That time, 30 million files were deleted, in a cascade effect, by directly disrupting utilities like power grids and airports.

With all these cases, it is obvious that the city of Atlanta's situation was comparatively milder, where the hackers just wanted ransom money.

Several crimes can be committed via the negative use of technology, and its existing gaps. These are only going to become easier if not properly addressed.

In the case of ransomware attacks, there are two choices in times of danger:

The first option is feasible, with the help of backup, and where the system can be recovered and hackers not paid.

The second option is when one is not prepared for the imminent threat, and/or the backup is affected too. Here, ransom will most probably have to be given. Following this, a safer security system must be set up, so that chances of the next attacks (if any) are negated or, at least, lesser.

Top Image: Ransomware cybercrime security (Source: Pixabay)

References

Linda Poon, 2018. Why Are Cities So Vulnerable to Cyber Attack? [Online] Available at: https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/03/atlanta-city-hall-cyber-attack-ransomware-cesar-cerrudo/556703/

Vanessa Romo, 2018. As Atlanta Seeks To Restore Services, Ransomware Attacks Are On The Rise. [Online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/03/30/597987182/as-atlanta-seeks-to-restore-services-ransomware-attacks-are-on-the-rise

Lily Hay Newman, 2018. The ransomware that hobbled Atlanta will strike again. [Online] Available at: https://www.wired.com/story/atlanta-ransomware-samsam-will-strike-again/

Nikos Dimitris Fakotakis's picture

Nikos Dimitris Fakotakis

Fakotakis Nikos Dimitris received his BSc-MEng in Computer and Information Engineering from the Polytechnic School of Patras, Greece, in 2015. He is currently a PhD student in the Wireless Communication Laboratory of the same department. His research interests are in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction. In parallel with his studies he has been working as computer and network engineer, database administrator, and software developer (Java, python, etc.).Read More

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