The City of New Orleans has suffered a cyber-security attack serious enough for Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a state of emergency. The attack started at 5 A.M. CST on Friday, December 13. The city is the latest municipality to be handicapped by ransom ware, a type of malware that threatens to release an individual or organisation’s data on a computer or blocks access to it, unless a ransom is paid.
Stephen Flynn is the founding director of the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University. According to him, much more needs to be done in curbing the spread of such attacks on the U.S. municipalities. He fears this to be happening with growing frequency across the country because it is very difficult, especially for some communities, but also for virtually all city and state governments and others to keep pace with the sophistication of cyber-attacks. An organisation run by Flynn is working with the city on a proposal to make the city stronger against natural and man-made disasters. The Global Resilience Institute was about to file a joint application with the city for a grant supporting a project intended to strengthen the city’s infrastructure, including its energy, transit, and telecommunications systems, when the cyber-attack occurred.
According to Flynn, local governments are easy targets as they provide vital services and are vulnerable to comply with ransom requests in order to get those services back up and running. They also often lack the resources and manpower to handle significant security threats. In addition to IT departments, it is the responsibility of individuals as well to remain vigilant about opening or responding to emails that appear suspicious. Organisations would benefit from educating employees about the latest techniques that hackers employ to obtain personal information.
However, it is unreasonable to expect that cyber-attacks can be stopped once and for all. These are a drawback of our increasingly connected world, but organisations can take steps to safeguard their electronic data and stay ahead of security threats that often cause significant disruptions to the economy and individuals’ quality of life. Flynn is worried that as cyber-attacks become increasingly sophisticated, critical infrastructures, such as wastewater treatment plants and transit systems will become targets for hackers.
“You could create oil spills, you can disrupt refineries, and you can mess with transit systems and cause accidents. These are real issues that these agencies are challenged by”, Flynn says.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman