Servers were powered down and devices unplugged as New Orleans suffered a cyber-attack comprehensive enough to force Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a State of Emergency.
Officials have said suspicious activity was noted on the network at 5am on Friday morning (December 14, 2019), though the emergency preparedness office, NOLA Ready, has been keen to drive home the message that there has been no evidence of significant data loss due to this cybersecurity incident.
What is worth noting, is this does not mean the City is in the clear, it simply confirms employees have not found the damage. These cyber-criminals likely compromised defences for a reason, and just because City Officials do not understand that reason for the moment does not mean damage has been avoided.
“We are in recovery mode,” said Cantrell during a press conference. “There is no evidence of personal data being lost at this time. Credentials were compromised but again we are now beginning recovery.
“4,000 computers will need to be scrubbed, 400 servers were affected, about 7,000 terabytes of data, 20 systems overall that we believe in terms of being brought online, and that touches heavily public safety.”
While few bureaucrats grasp the concepts of the digital economy, this incident drives home not only the dangers but also the lack of preparedness in combating the darker characters of the World Wide Web. In this incident, officials might be able to state that systems were shut down before any damage could be inflicted (or at least that is believed currently) though they were not able to stop the criminals from breaching defences in the first place.
This should not be swept aside, though it likely will. This is the latest in a string of cyber incidents across the US, highlighting the inadequacies of cyber security at public sector organisations, and it will only be a matter of time before genuine damage is inflicted in one manner or another.
Aside from this example, in July, school computers across Louisiana has to be taken offline in response to a ransomware attack. It is not known whether these two incidents are connected. A few weeks later, 23 government agencies were shut down as the State of Texas suffered a comprehensive ransomware attack.
These incidents should be considered warning shots, and it is very worrying at how often government agencies are taken offline. Another worrying factor to consider is that these are the incidents which are known; how many cyber defences have been compromised without setting off the alarm bells? Many governments are aggressively pursuing the digital economy, though perhaps these incidents suggest risk is not being managed appropriately.