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

8/19/2019
03:15 PM
100%
0%

Towns Across Texas Hit in Coordinated Ransomware Attack

The state government and cybersecurity groups have mobilized to respond to a mass ransomware attack that simultaneously hit 22 different towns statewide.

[This article was updated on Aug. 20 with new information from the state of Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) that 22 towns were affected, not 23 as the DIR originally had stated.] 

The state of Texas has been hit with a rare coordinated ransomware attack that disrupted systems of 22 different local governments.

The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) issued a statewide alert on Aug. 16 warning towns and cities across the state about the attack campaign. The attack hit Friday morning and appears to be the work of a single threat actor, the DIR said in a statement on Aug. 17. Later that day, Texas government officials activated a multi-organizational task force, including the Department of Information Resources (DIR), the Texas A&M University System's Security Operations Center (SOC), the Texas Department of Public Safety, and emergency and military responders.

By Saturday, all affected entities had been notified and the DIR confirmed that state systems had not been affected by the attack. 

"Investigations into the origin of this attack are ongoing; however, response and recovery are the priority at this time," the DIR alert stated. "Responders are actively working with these entities to bring their systems back online."

The coordinated attack against Texas' local governments represents, arguably, the most brazen ransomware operation to date. While ransomware attacks are becoming more targeted, a single coordinated attack against a state is rare.

It is unclear what made the simultaneous attack possible. The same type of vulnerable systems could have been present in each network, or a third-party service provider could have been compromised, says Adam Kujawa, director of security research at Malwarebytes.  

"[I]t is very alarming to see this kind of coordinated attack happen all at once," he says. "More than likely, most of these networks were already compromised by some other threat and the ransomware aspect just hadn't been downloaded and launched until last Friday."

Yet, the coordinated nature of the attack will likely end up as a miscalculation. In July, mayors from the largest towns and cities in the United States pledged to not pay future ransom demands. The pledge, made at the US Conference of Mayors, came after several high profile ransomware attacks against both large cities, such as Atlanta and Baltimore, and small towns, such as Riviera Beach and Lake City, both in Florida.

By attacking many towns and elevating the response to the state-level, the ransomware operators have made it less likely that the victims will pay, Tim Erlin, vice president of product management and strategy at Tripwire, said in a statement.

"If this is really a coordinated attack, it's hard to imagine how it's a good thing for the ransomware attackers and for this specific criminal. Raising the bar on the response to a coordinated state level will decrease the likelihood that ransom will actually get paid, and increase the likelihood that both Texas and other states are better prepared for these events in the future," he said.

Ransomware is generally on the rise. In 2018, more than half of all organizations (53%) polled by messaging service provider Mimecast encountered a ransomware attack that impacted operations, according to the company's State of E-mail Security 2019 report. 

On Alert

The attack on Texas mainly targeted small local governments, but the DIR did not rule out that other systems had been affected.

"Currently, DIR, the Texas Military Department, and the Texas A&M University System's Cyberresponse and Security Operations Center teams are deploying resources to the most critically impacted jurisdictions," the agency stated. "Further resources will be deployed as they are requested."

Kujawa says while the mayors of larger US towns have committed to not paying ransom, it's unclear if the Texas towns will follow suit.

"If they do, it could hearten other victims, but it may not have a long-term benefit," says Kujawa. "I think we could see it as a sign of resistance and a light in the dark for some organizations, especially those who aren't sure they could actually fight against a ransomware attack." 

That wouldn't likely deter attackers from employing ransomware, though, he notes. "I think at this point they hope that if they get even 50% of what they are demanding from their attacks, they are sitting pretty with a good profit," he says.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: Modern Technology, Modern Mistakes

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
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
Former CISA Director Chris Krebs Discusses Risk Management & Threat Intel
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/23/2021
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
Security + Fraud Protection: Your One-Two Punch Against Cyberattacks
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5,  2/23/2021
News
Cybercrime Groups More Prolific, Focus on Healthcare in 2020
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  2/22/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: "The truth behind Stonehenge...."
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
Building the SOC of the Future
Building the SOC of the Future
Digital transformation, cloud-focused attacks, and a worldwide pandemic. The past year has changed the way business works and the way security teams operate. There is no going back.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-1936
PUBLISHED: 2021-03-02
A cross-site scripting issue was found in Apache Ambari Views. This was addressed in Apache Ambari 2.7.4.
CVE-2021-27904
PUBLISHED: 2021-03-02
An issue was discovered in app/Model/SharingGroupServer.php in MISP 2.4.139. In the implementation of Sharing Groups, the "all org" flag sometimes provided view access to unintended actors.
CVE-2021-27901
PUBLISHED: 2021-03-02
An issue was discovered on LG mobile devices with Android OS 11 software. They mishandle fingerprint recognition because local high beam mode (LHBM) does not function properly during bright illumination. The LG ID is LVE-SMP-210001 (March 2021).
CVE-2021-21321
PUBLISHED: 2021-03-02
fastify-reply-from is an npm package which is a fastify plugin to forward the current http request to another server. In fastify-reply-from before version 4.0.2, by crafting a specific URL, it is possible to escape the prefix of the proxied backend service. If the base url of the proxied server is &...
CVE-2021-21322
PUBLISHED: 2021-03-02
fastify-http-proxy is an npm package which is a fastify plugin for proxying your http requests to another server, with hooks. By crafting a specific URL, it is possible to escape the prefix of the proxied backend service. If the base url of the proxied server is `/pub/`, a user expect that accessing...