Secure Your City: Local Government

by Sarah Harvey / May 30th, 2019

Infiltrating technology at local governments is an attack method with big pay-off for hackers. Phish a county employee? You can take the whole county, city, or state down. Because local governments rely on the data they hold to fuel their economies and keep their citizens safe, understanding the need for effective cybersecurity strategies and how to mitigate the numerous cybersecurity challenges cities are faced with needs to be a top priority of municipal governments. If a hacker gains access to a city’s data via a phishing attack and holds it for ransom, what would the impact be? Could your city recover?

The Need for Effective Cybersecurity Strategies

Phishing is one of the most common sources of attacks on local governments. Why? Because it’s so easy. Hackers can easily trick employees into opening a malicious link or file via email or other modes of electronic communication, leaving local governments at a high-risk for data breaches. In fact, cities, counties, and states alike are all susceptible to falling victim of a cyberattack caused by phishing attacks – just look at these examples:

  • When SamSam attacked Atlanta, thousands of city employees couldn’t access their computers and other connected technology for weeks, court dates had to be rescheduled, utility payments had to be made in person, traffic tickets could not be processed—this ransomware attack completely obstructed many day-to-day operations of the City of Atlanta.
  • In 2016, 108 L.A. County employees fell for a phishing email and the hacker was able to gain usernames and passwords for employees with access to confidential information. Through a forensic investigation, the county found that the names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, banking information, payment card information, and medical treatment information of 756,000 individuals were potentially impacted by this one successful phishing attempt.
  • A hacker was able to access one Mecklenburg County employee’s log-in credentials through a phishing email. About 200 systems were impacted, causing the county to shut down many parts of its network. Fortunately, back-up data was available so that the county did not have to consider paying the $23,000 ransom. To prevent a second attack wave, the county disabled employees’ ability to open certain types of emails. It took almost six weeks and thousands of dollars to rebuild servers, get employee email up and running, and secure the rest of their systems.
  • In 2017, Ohio Governor Josh Kaisich’s website was hacked with pro-ISIS propaganda. This breach points to how susceptible elected officials are to encountering cybersecurity breaches. Many officials use their websites to power their campaigns, raise funds for re-election efforts, and inform the public of their policies. If malicious hackers find ways to compromise those websites, whether through phishing attacks or DDoS attacks, significant harm could be done including the spread of misinformation.
  • Over the last year, many other elected officials, ranging from U.S. Senators to state governors, have been targets of phishing attacks. For example, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s campaign experienced an unsuccessful phishing attempt on dormant email accounts, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill experienced an unsuccessful phishing scam caused by Russia-based GRU, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also fell victim to an attempted phishing attack. If our lawmakers are top targets of phishing scams, how can we be sure that other areas of our local government will stay protected?
  • In September 2018, 12 state government email accounts from the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet’s Department of Revenue were compromised via a phishing attack that was likely caused by malicious email attachments. Those impacted by the attack had access to highly confidential information about Kentucky taxpayers.

Key Cybersecurity Challenges for Local Governments

No matter if your city has 5,000 residents or 500,000 residents, establishing robust cybersecurity programs for local governments can be a challenging task. Local governments are faced with overcoming tight budgets, personnel with a lack of understanding of cybersecurity best practices, and a lack IT expertise to overcome today’s threat landscape. So, what should public sector organizations invest in? Cybersecurity awareness training programs for citizens and elected officials, use of forensic services after incidents or breaches, cybersecurity exercises, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, and competitive compensation for IT personnel.

These examples don’t even come close to the number of reported breaches by local municipalities. Have you been victimized the cyber threats targeting the public sector? Don’t leave the security of your city and your citizens up in the air – let us help! Contact us today to learn how you can stay abreast of phishing attacks and other cybersecurity threats.

More Cybersecurity Resources

Ransomware Alert: Lessons Learned from the City of Atlanta

Horror Stories – 5 Cities Victimized By Cyber Threats

How Can Penetration Testing Protect Your Assets?