How to cripple a city in one click

Baltimore City Hall

How to cripple a city in one click

What kind of world do we live in when we have to submit to the will of the bad guys? Sometimes it may be necessary to do so, or the consequences could lead to the infrastructure and services of entire cities, being down for days weeks or even months.

What can be done when a city is in crisis and Batman isn’t an option?  In short, not a lot!

Recent cyber-attacks have seen a Town in Florida  spend out over £400,000 to regain control of data and files from devious hackers. But, in attacks like these, where is the guarantee that the hackers will return all your files ending the nightmare? There is none.

The situation is akin to trusting Gollum to look after your wedding ring. (non-fantasy fans click here to discover the relevance)

However, the flip side isn’t so rosy either. The damage that can be inflicted by not paying the ransom can sometimes be exponentially more than the  actual ransom cost.

In the recent attack in Atlanta, the ransom asked for was $51,000, but by deciding not to give into demands has thus far, seen the city pay out $2.7 million to rectify the damages.  The attack in Atlanta was a big deal, with the city losing control over vital services such as law enforcement and civil service pay. Want to create anarchy? Take down a city police force!

So why do these attacks cost so much if nothing is physically damaged?

Cities run on smart systems that control infrastructure and services including;  power, traffic, water, emergency services,  In the recent Florida attack,  hackers managed to shut down water pump stations.

Baltimore, USA, experienced similar affects. City Hall workers to a revert to a paper-based admin system, after an attack left them helpless, costing valuable time and money. During the attack, the hacker locked out all emails and encrypted water and tax bills with no one being able to see what to invoice or what had been paid.

This sent the city into a crippled state, with public services completely, shut down causing mass disruption. Yet again the city of Baltimore decided against paying the ransom and has to date spent over $18 million to repair the damages! This is almost 180 times the cost of the ransom.

Aside from the huge costs and disruption, these situations do raise an ethical dilemma. Should the ransom be paid or does the state pay tens of millions of tax payers money out that could have been spent on vital services such as education, healthcare, infrastructure and ironically cyber security.

How are The Hackers Doing This?

The most common way for a hacker to acquire access to your network is through sending a poison tipped phishing email with the convincing bait of an infectious link. One click and it’s all over.

This is exactly what happened in the Florida cyber-attack. An employee opened an email containing malware and the rest is… well, still being sorted!

It’s also common for a hacker, to sit happily undetected in your systems/network for days, weeks, months even years either siphoning off data or encrypting your files and waiting for the big day they take you down. Often in ransomware attacks, the hacker will encrypt all the files in a system so that no one other than the hacker can gain access. At this stage all of your data and critical files are at the mercy of the hacker.

The hacker will hold your data hostage and kindly give you a decryption code for the payment of a small fee, $51K in the Florida case but the average ransomware fee is $133,000.

They ask for payment in bitcoin (crypto currency) which means the payments cannot be traced and offer to give you the codes to restore your files once the ransom has been paid. However, there are no guarantees this will happen. Sometimes they will even unlock a bit of data for you as a goodwill gesture… very kind!

The first sign most people see when infected is something like this.

Ransom pic

Ransom Message


Wannacry Message

It’s not just Cities

It’s not only cities that are experiencing an increase in cyber-attacks, as lots of businesses are being targeted and crippled in the exact same way. Hackers will seek opportunity, anywhere as long as there is potential revenue.

On March 19, 2019, Norsk Hydro suffered a cyber-attack that left 22,000 computers across 170 sites in 40 different countries inaccessible. Norsk Hydro refused to pay the ransom and as a result it cost the manufacturer a staggering £45 million for the damage and downtime.

Attacks are happening every day. Not only causing problems for businesses but affecting key services that we all rely on such as power, healthcare and utilities. Whilst we may be able to ignore what is going on as it doesn’t immediately affect us, the brute reality is that we all need to take steps to bolster security to prevent such things. You wouldn’t leave the door open and watch the robbers go through your stuff to decide what to take or blackmail you with, so secure your digital life.

Here a few a basic tips to get you thinking about cyber security and how to try to prevent attacks:

  • Ensure the latest patched and updates are always installed
  • Don’t rely on anti-virus/malware software- it’s not as secure as you think.
  • Make sure you and your employees are aware of what phishing emails are and the damage they cause.
  • Create a culture and thinking around cyber security
  • Set up a password policy to avoid weak passwords being used.
  • Use two factor authentications to protect accounts.
  • Restrict administrative access.

If you a serious about combating threats, you may want to review your current security and get an idea where you may need to bolster defences. Will the security measures from 2016 protect you from 2020 threats?

Find out for yourself – Book a Cyber Risk Assessment which will highlight areas you may be vulnerable and exposed.  Call us on 0114 361 0062 to book yours.