Ransomware Focus: Local Governments, Schools and Healthcare

New Ransomware Focus

Ransomware has a new focus. Recent studies and surveys report that ransomware attacks have sky rocketed against government agencies, public healthcare providers and schools in the first nine months of 2019.

A report published by Emsisoft noted that at least 68 state, county and municipal entities have been affected by ransomware attacks this year.  In addition, at least 62 ransomware attacks have involved School Districts.  Healthcare providers reported 491 ransomware attacks.

 This report also cited the following trends in 2019:

  • Cybercriminals Target MSPs: Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting software used by MSPs and other third-party service providers. They simultaneously attack service providers and their customers.
  • Ransoms Are Increasing: Cybercriminals want to maximize their profits, and as such, are increasing their ransom requests.
  • Cyber Insurance Drives Ransom Payments: Organizations that leverage cyber insurance are more prone than others to pay cybercriminals’ ransoms.
  • Cybercriminals Prioritize Email and Remote Desktop Protocol(RDP): Emails and RDP attachments represent the top choices for cybercriminals to launch ransomware attacks.

Credibility & Sophistication

Ironically, Ransomware cybercriminals consistently operate with integrity by following through on their commitment to decipher encrypted data once a ransom is paid.  These criminals understand that for their crimes to continue to be profitable, they must follow through and make the data available to their victims after they have received payments.

Local Governments and School Districts find themselves in a tough situation. They often are forced to rapidly make arrangements for the ransom payment because their IT systems completely stop working.


Recent Video from ZDNet

To ensure that their damage is inflicted, cyber-criminals are making their attacks more sophisticated.  Today’s ransomware attacks often include “time delayed fuses”. These attacks are designed to infect not only an organization’s primary data storage but also their replicated data sets and backups.  When an organization attempts to recover from a ransomware attack using their backup data, they soon find that their backup data is also infected and encrypted.  As countermeasures against ransomware become increasingly sophisticated, so do the attacks.

The Voice of America: Ransomware Focus

A report just published by IBM Security-Morning Consult showed the following:

  • 79% of Americans are concerned about the threat of ransomware to cities across the US. While 68% are concerned about the threat of ransomware to their specific city. 75% are worried about threats to their personal data.
  • 56% of Americans would disapprove of their local government using tax dollars to pay a ransomware hacker.  When given an explicit choice, 63% of respondents would prefer to pay higher repair costs and not pay a ransom rather than using taxpayer dollars to pay for a ransom.
  • More than 50% of Americans would not be willing to pay additional taxes to protect their city, county, or town from ransomware attacks. Among those who are unwilling to pay additional taxes for cyber-security, respondents are split 50/50 on whether they would support cutting funding from other local priorities for cyber-security.
  • Nearly half (49%) of the respondents view the Federal Government as having the greatest responsibility to protect cities from ransomware attacks. 22% seeing it as a state-level responsibility. 28% view it as the responsibility of the local Government.

These statistics explain the complexity that our civic leaders face when addressing the threat of ransomware.  Public policy will evolve over time and likely make substantial progress as knowledge is gained. Unfortunately, the threat to our local governments and public institutions is very real today.


A Step in the Right Direction

Organizations of all sizes can take a meaningful first step to reduce their risk to ransomware. They need to assess their data backup and data protection policies.  Having the right processes and technology in place will substantially lessen the risk of ransomware.

Zunesis specializes in helping organizations evaluate and assess their backup and data protection policies. This includes retention policies and “air gaps”.  This is one step in providing greater overall security for Government agencies, schools and healthcare providers.  Often considered to be the important first step.


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