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Atlanta is the latest city to fall victim to a ransomware attack, where cybercriminals have hacked the city’s computer systems, locked it down, and then demanded payment to release the data.
According to a city employee who sent WXIA a screenshot of the demand, the attackers are commanding $6,800 per computer to unlock the information, or $51,000 for all data to be released. Of course, the payment is due in the form of bitcoin—a hacker’s preferred currency as it’s considerably harder to trace than cash.
Atlanta city officials have not yet paid the attacks, some six days after the hack took place, and they are not confirming whether they will; generally, it is not advised to pay the ransom as you’re opening yourself up to further attacks—the same reason the U.S. government won’t negotiate with terrorists.
So, what are they doing?
Well, city employees have been handed a written notice to not turn on their computers. The city’s Department of Public Works’ website was disabled, Atlanta’s HR department has suspended applications for new hires, the Department of Corrections is manually processing inmates, and the Department of Aviation has disabled public WiFi (so if you’ve flown through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport over the past few days, that’s why the public WiFi was down).
The group responsible for the attack is said to be called SamSam, according to WXIA. SamSam reportedly made $850,000 using various ransomware attacks since December of last year. The city has told its customers and employees to monitor their personal information but noted that there is no evidence that their data has been compromised.
According to Atlanta officials, the city, FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cisco cybersecurity officials, and Microsoft are all “working around the clock” to rectify the issue and get the city back online again. As of now, six days on, there is still no timeline as to when that will be: “What we want to make sure of is that we aren’t putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said Mayor Bottoms.
Davidson County in North Carolina took a month to get its computers back after a ransomware attack, and as mentioned, Colorado suffered two in a matter of weeks. Fingers crossed Atlanta can get things operational quickly, but as we’re seeing, ransomware is becoming a major thorn in the side of numerous industries around the globe, and the problem is only getting worse.
As technology improves and more systems store sensitive data online, cybercriminals are discovering new ways to break in and make money. And the culprits are notoriously tough to track; after all, they could be located anywhere in the world. What we’re seeing is that cybersecurity has not been taken seriously enough. With hacks like this, however, we’re sure to see that change.
To ensure your personal devices are secure from hackers, download a free and trusted VPN like Hotspot Shield for both your mobile device and desktop computer.