Ransomware is here to stay in 2020- 1/2
Cyber security experts calculated that the ransomware business could hit $ 11.5 billion this year despite a slight decrease in activity at the end of last year. Even though it was speculated that mobile ransomware and banking ransomware will be the prime target in 2020, we have so far seen all areas of business impacted and the numbers just keep rising. From Government institutions to police departments, private financial institutions to entire city computer networks, ransomware manages to prevail and is here to stay.
One of the most recent ransomware attacks targeted the Baltimore city’s computer network, more specifically, almost all the city’s servers were infected by a new strain of ransomware virus called Robinhood, leaving out emergency 911 and 311 critical systems which remained operational. The ransomware was quarantined and even the FBI started investigating this very aggressive attack on Baltimore City Hall, as this is the second time this year, they had their systems held hostage.
Considering that tax bills can’t be paid, houses can’t be sold on the market, and that the problem seemingly remained for weeks, the monetary loss of this attack was immense. Adding that the Baltimore had no cyber insurance to cover the ever-growing costs of the attack, the citizens of Baltimore are likely to bear the losses.
The attackers demanded ransom of $ 70.000 for the whole infected computer systems to be unencrypted but the Mayor explicitly announced that the ransom will not be paid. The estimated cost of remediation, loss of business, inability to generate water bills, inability to use phone systems and issue lien certificates is in the millions. The damage has been done and the outcome is devastating. Since so many aspects of city’s normal functioning were impacted, the cost is still being calculated.
While a group of expert cyber security companies dug through the system and networks to find the culprit, it was suspected that the root cause of the incident was a spear phishing attack. The reason for the strong suspicion is the fact that the city's email system was entirely internally hosted, running on Windows Server 2012 instances in the city's data center. Once the attackers gained a foothold into the system, spreading the ransomware virus occurred over a period of time triggering the encryption process once all the major systems were infected. Vitali Kremez, a ransomware analyst and researcher, claimed that this was a targeted attack and that based on his research of the virus, attackers planned this infection specifically for the Baltimore city hall. Since the strain of the virus is new, it passed all anti-virus tools and gained root access to the main critical system.
In order to understand how state and local government agencies can fall victim to such a devastating attack, one only needs to look at the IT budget the governments are operating with, its IT staff and backup recovery plans. As it turns out, Baltimore City’s IT budget is twice as less as other major cities in the United States. On top of that, four Chief Information Officers were fired from their positions over a period of five years indicating internal issues with operational management. To top it off, not all systems had backup ready in place or a disaster recovery plan for a ransomware attack.