A city in Florida pays hackers a $600k USD ransom to decrypt its systems

Information security service experts report that a Florida city agreed to pay a ransom of about $600,000 to a hacker group that took control of its computer systems; thousands of similar incidents have recently been reported around the world.

Riviera Beach City Council decided, by unanimous vote, to yield to the demands of hackers, as they did not believe they had other options to recover the information encrypted by the attackers. In addition, Riviera Beach approved an expense of about $1M USD to purchase new computer equipment; local government systems have been out of service for about three weeks.

According to information security service experts, threat actors would most likely get access to the compromised system after tricking an employee into downloading malware to one of the computers on the network. Among the issues generated by the incident are the loss of their mail server and the crash of their emergency call service.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (NHS) say ransomware attacks have become the main threat to individuals and organizations in the most recent two years. Figures collected by multiple cybersecurity firms support such claim; in 2018, the SamSam ransomware collapsed flight systems, monitors and mail servers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, as well as an attack with such malware infected Port of San Diego systems.

Recently governments in other cities such as Atlanta, Sarasota, among others, have been affected by malware attacks; multiple health service companies have also become a relevant target for hackers.

According to the information security service experts from the International Institute of Cyber Security (IICS) the ransomware is deployed mainly through phishing emails or by automatic downloads on malicious websites. “It is common for operators of ransomware campaigns to try to disguise their emails as legitimate content from private companies or government institutions, users should be careful and learn to tear apart a legitimate message from a suspect one”, the experts say.