State, local governments must watch for cyber attacks | #malware | #ransomware

As the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ripple through the business world, Gov. Greg Abbott was right on target when he sent out an advisory letter warning about the possibility of a cyber-attack from the Russian government or the cyber gangs known to operate in that country.

Abbott directed the Texas Department of Information Resources and the Texas Department of Public Safety “to use every available resource to safeguard the state’s critical infrastructure and to assist local governments and school districts in Texas with their needs.”

Abbott’s office outlined basic steps that should be taken, which include enhancing cyber security through the use of best industry practices, ensuring that public officials can quickly detect a cyber intrusion through the use of software services and most of all, prepare for an intrusion by utilizing a cyber incident response team.

Although this may seem like an overreaction to some, it is not. State and local governments across the country have been hit by more and more cyber attacks in recent years. Although it can be difficult to pinpoint the source of one of these attacks, many of them originate from criminal gangs allowed to operate inside Russia.

In 2019, the Port Neches-Groves ISD was hit with a ransomware attack by an unknown source. PN-G was able to limit the damage to a $35,000 payment by its insurance company (paid in Bitcoin to make it harder to trace) to regain full access to its data. Many experts don’t recommend paying ransom to hackers, but often entities like PN-G feel they have no real alternative, especially if insurance will cover the short-term costs.

But a local attack like that shows that governmental entities are vulnerable to this threat or a shutdown of their computer systems by a malicious hacker. At this point no one knows if Russia will respond to the crippling sanctions levied on by retaliating with cyber attacks, but the threat cannot be ruled. That’s especially true since state officials have been moving quickly to divest from any Russian investments they may have.

The best defense against a cyber attack is strong defensive measures within a city, county or school district computer systems. All personnel must be educated about protecting passwords and not opening up suspicious emails. Almost every organization of any size should have a computer technician who keeps its cyber protections as strong as possible — and the threat requires near-constant upgrades and modifications.

The Ukrainian crisis is likely to continue for weeks or possibly months. That means that the threat of a Russian cyberattack remains a possibility for as long as it drags on. Vigilance and best practices can help keep Putin at bay, and any other person or group that may tempted to commit a cyber crime.

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