Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

Florida Town Pays $600K to Ransomware Operators

Riviera Beach's decision to pay ransom to criminals might get files back, but it almost guarantees greater attacks against other governments.

Paying the ransom for ransomware is rarely recommended, but that didn't stop Riviera Beach, Florida — a town with a population of around 35,000, north of West Palm Beach — from authorizing a payment of 65 Bitcoin, worth more than $600,000, to criminals in the hope that municipal data would be unlocked.

The attack, which began on May 29 when a police department employee opened a malicious email attachment, ultimately disabled all of the city's online systems, including email, a water utility pumping station, some phones, and the ability to accept utility payments online or by credit card.

Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of ImmuniWeb, says that the payment could have far-reaching consequences. "This is very alarming news that will likely spur an unprecedented spike of ransomware attacks on the critical infrastructure of small cities that are unable to duly protect themselves." This means that "cities, municipalities, and smaller governmental entities are a low-hanging fruit for insatiable and smart cybercriminals."

And those criminals may have begun ramping up their activities even before Riviera Beach showed that there can be significant profit. "Cyber extortion is a growing type of attack, with a questionable effectiveness," says Allan Liska, an intelligence analyst at Recorded Future. "While there are a lot of these attacks occurring, most of them are simply bluffs. There aren't as many cases of a legitimate cybercriminal with legitimate access to the target organization using this technique. It is an interesting area to watch for potential growth."

"Cybercriminals always try to get maximum profit doing the least effort," says Cesar Cerrudo, chief technology officer of IOActive and founder of Securing Smart Cities. "That's why targeting city technology is a good business opportunity to them as the private sector is becoming more secure and difficult to hack, while most city systems are easier to hack.

"There is a lack of cybersecurity knowledge and skilled resources in most cities around the world, while technology adoption and dependence keep increasing," Cerrudo adds, pointing out that the combination creates an especially dangerous opportunity for criminals. And things could get worse. "So far, the consequences have been mostly financial, but soon attacks could end up putting human lives at risk," he says.

In addition to the ransom payment, Riviera Beach moved purchase of $900,000 in new computer hardware forward a year in order to replace infected systems. And all of the expense could have been avoided, according to some security professionals. "Bad actors are rational. They will invest time and effort into attacks that work," says Unman Rahim, digital security and operations manager for The Media Trust. "The takeaway from this and other similar attacks is this: All businesses should back up their data and train their employees on how to avoid such cyberattacks."

Sam McLane, chief technology services officer at Arctic Wolf Networks, gets even more specific with his recommendations for municipal governments. "First, having good backup and recovery is essential to counter ransomware. If malware slips through your defenses, you need the ability to revert to a recent backup and avoid the pain that the City of Riviera Beach is encountering," McLane says. "Second, organizations also need to have detection technology like network monitoring via intrusion detection or endpoint detection and response. And third, organizations must monitor the entire environment to detect and respond when something slips through."

As of press time, Riviera Beach has not reported whether it has been given the key to decrypt the locked files.

Related content:

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
tdsan
50%
50%
tdsan,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2019 | 3:19:05 PM
Segmentation is something they don't do
The attack, which began on May 29 when a police department employee opened a malicious email attachment, ultimately disabled all of the city's online systems, including email, a water utility pumping station, some phones, and the ability to accept utility payments online or by credit card.

Hmm, there are a few questions that cause me to pause:
  • If they have AV or Email AV, shouldn't the software catch this?
  • Also, shouldn't the email and water utility system be separate from one another
  • And the online payment system, shouldn't that have been in the DMZ and the DB in Zone 0 or isolated from the rest

Sounds to me from the application, network, web, Db and credit card groups failed to understand the concept of network segmentation. Where was the Enterprise Archictect in this endeavor and what happened to the planning stages associated with DR (doesn't GDPR get involved with this issue and shouldn't they be penalized for this attrocity)?

Todd
REISEN1955
50%
50%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2019 | 2:31:27 PM
Re: Beautiful Train Wreck
What the does the DJs post have to do with this subject?
RyanSepe
100%
0%
RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
6/21/2019 | 1:47:50 PM
Re: Beautiful Train Wreck
Couldn't agree more. Plus you are operating under the assumption that the malicious actor is now going to act ethically, decrypt your data and leave you alone.

I would posit a guess that even with this occurence barely anything will change in the way they run the shop. I would like to be more optimistic but the data doesn't lie.
djrequired001
0%
100%
djrequired001,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/21/2019 | 10:23:39 AM
Re: Beautiful Train Wreck
DJ gigs London, DJ agency UK

Dj Required has been setup by a mixed group of London's finest Dj's, a top photographer and cameraman. Together we take on Dj's, Photographers and Cameramen with skills and the ability required to entertain and provide the best quality service and end product. We supply Bars, Clubs and Pubs with Dj's, Photographers, and Cameramen. We also supply for private hire and other Occasions. Our Dj's, Photographers and Cameramen of your choice, we have handpicked the people we work with
REISEN1955
50%
50%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
6/20/2019 | 3:23:39 PM
Beautiful Train Wreck
Everything wrong in this one beyond decision to pay.  Well let's start with what was protecting them and where did the infection come from - usually stupid user opening bad email.  Education!!!!   We have heard alot of that in this forum and there is a vidoe on the very subject here.  Then what about backup protocols and data recovery protocols, of which - usually - none or last updated July of 2003.  And redundancy?   What if this was just a failed data center issue???   So be bad and pay the ransom and off the thieves go to more hell and fun.  Everything just wrong wrong wrong here. 
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
New Attack Campaigns Suggest Emotet Threat Is Far From Over
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-20399
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
A timing vulnerability in the Scalar::check_overflow function in Parity libsecp256k1-rs before 0.3.1 potentially allows an attacker to leak information via a side-channel attack.
CVE-2020-7915
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An issue was discovered on Eaton 5P 850 devices. The Ubicacion SAI field allows XSS attacks by an administrator.
CVE-2019-20391
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An invalid memory access flaw is present in libyang before v1.0-r3 in the function resolve_feature_value() when an if-feature statement is used inside a bit. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may crash.
CVE-2019-20392
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An invalid memory access flaw is present in libyang before v1.0-r1 in the function resolve_feature_value() when an if-feature statement is used inside a list key node, and the feature used is not defined. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may crash.
CVE-2019-20393
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
A double-free is present in libyang before v1.0-r1 in the function yyparse() when an empty description is used. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may be vulnerable to this flaw, which would cause a crash or potentially code execution.