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

8/22/2019
12:20 PM
50%
50%

Texas Towns Recover, but Local Governments Have Little Hope for Respite from Ransomware

Their struggles underscore the difficulties for small towns in dealing with cyberattacks.

Twenty-two Texas towns and local government organizations have begun to recover from a coordinated ransomware attack on their information systems, though many continue to struggle with outages and disruptions to their municipal services.

The city of Kaufman, Texas, for example, announced on Monday in a post on Facebook that its systems had been "severely affected by an outside source," informing residents that "all of our computer and phone systems are down and our ability to access data, process payments, etc. is greatly limited." 

The city, which has a population of approximately 7,000, issued an update later in the week that the "system has been restored" but city services were not completely operational. 

"We are currently working with a third party IT Company to identify and correct the issue," city officials stated. "However, all City Hall services will be limited until our systems are back online. We ask for your patience while we work through the issue." (A call to the city's manager had not been returned as of this posting.)

State officials continue to offer aid to the nearly two dozen towns and cities affected by the coordinated ransomware attack. In an August 20 update, the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) announced it had reduced its count of the number of "entities" impacted to 22, and that more than a quarter of those victims had "transitioned from response and assessment  to remediation and recovery."

Borger, a small Texas town of 13,250, announced it had been impacted on August 19, with vital statistics and utility-payment systems offline. "The City continues to actively work with responders to bring our computer systems back online and regain full operations," the announcement stated. "Responders have not yet established a timeframe for when full, normal operations will be restored."

Other towns acknowledging their systems had been impacted by the attack include Keene and Wilmer. In a threat alert, Richardson, Texas-based cloud-security firm Armor Defense identified four other local government organizations impacted by the coordinated attack: the offices in Lubbock and Grayson counties, and the police departments in Bonham, Vernon, and Graham.

Some initial reports indicated that a managed service provider links the various towns and agencies and could have been a vector for the attack. Like many small towns, many, but not all, identified as victims of the attacks use CivicPlus as their content management system. Another common provider seems to be Tyler Technologies, but that company denies being the vehicle for the attack.

Today at least one report cited a communications platform for police departments as the vector of compromise, but Armor urged caution.

"It is also plausible that the threat actors behind this attack spear-phished a list of curated targets — all of them working on behalf of Texas local government organizations," says Chris Hinkley, a senior security researcher with Armor's Threat Resistance Unit (TRU). "And if that was the case, it is likely that other small government organizations within Texas were also targeted, outside of the 22 victim entities, but did not fall for the attack."

The company stressed that local governments, especially those in rural areas, are hard-pressed to fend off cyberattacks. By Armor's accounting, at least 67 municipalities, and 133 US organizations in total, have been hit with ransomware to date in 2019. And while a typical ransomware framework or attack platform may cost only hundreds of dollars, attackers have claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars from affected towns.

"All government organizations should be aware that no entity is safe, no matter how small or obscure," he says. "They must be diligent when protecting their digital assets, and it is imperative that they consider employing some of the key cybersecurity protections against ransomware attacks."

An IT professional in one small Texas town that had not been impacted by the ransomware campaign stressed that local governments in rural areas have few resources to secure their computer systems. Speaking on background, the IT expert blamed the high cost of hiring cybersecurity professionals as well as the lack of interest on the part of vendors in serving small communities for the security shortfall.

While the mayors of larger towns have pledged to not pay ransoms to cybercriminals who use crypto-locking ransomware in hopes of removing financial incentives, one security professional expects the strategy to have little impact on the threat.

Zohar Pinhasi, CEO of attack-recovery service provider MonsterCloud — which helped the city of Kaufman recover from a previous ransomware attack and has reportedly used controversial methods to resolve incidents — argued that ransomware is here to stay.

"Paying or not paying is no deterrent, because their state-sponsored terrorism will not stop," he says. "They aren't going away — in fact, most are not after the dollars [but] rather in making a statement against the US."

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "You Gotta Reach 'Em to Teach 'Em."

 

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Tips for Infosec Pros Considering A Lateral Career Move
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/21/2020
For Mismanaged SOCs, The Price Is Not Right
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/22/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
IT 2020: A Look Ahead
Are you ready for the critical changes that will occur in 2020? We've compiled editor insights from the best of our network (Dark Reading, Data Center Knowledge, InformationWeek, ITPro Today and Network Computing) to deliver to you a look at the trends, technologies, and threats that are emerging in the coming year. Download it today!
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-2020-7994
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in Dolibarr 10.0.6 allow remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the (1) label[libelle] parameter to the /htdocs/admin/dict.php?id=3 page; the (2) name[constname] parameter to the /htdocs/admin/const.php?mainmenu=home page; the ...
CVE-2020-7995
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
The htdocs/index.php?mainmenu=home login page in Dolibarr 10.0.6 allows an unlimited rate of failed authentication attempts.
CVE-2020-7996
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
htdocs/user/passwordforgotten.php in Dolibarr 10.0.6 allows XSS via the Referer HTTP header.
CVE-2020-7989
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Adive Framework 2.0.8 has admin/user/add userUsername XSS.
CVE-2020-7990
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-26
Adive Framework 2.0.8 has admin/user/add userName XSS.