Hackers infect Pascagoula’s data systems, demand ransom

Updated: Dec. 9, 2019 at 2:57 PM CST
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - The city of Pascagoula is continuing its efforts in keeping the city’s computer systems secured after it was hit with cyber attacks on November 28.

“Pascagoula was infected with a malware payload from a third party contractor connected to the city’s data infrastructure,” acting city manager Frank Corder explained.

Corder says hackers attempted to gain access to the city’s system and temporarily caused emails and critical data to be down. The hackers allegedly locked systems and asked for asking for payment in exchange for access. This type of cyber attack is known as ransomware.

“If you’ve ever had a computer where your hard drive crashed and all of the data that was on that drive became inaccessible to you, the effect of a ransomware attack is similar to that," said Tom Rishell, an instructor at the USM School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering.

“Some systems had to be reworked, which is why certain phones and systems are still impacted but the city is nearly fully functional at this juncture,” he explained.

Corder says the attacks were immediately quarantined, contained, investigated and remediated by Pascagoula’s IT contractor.

“Best in class, industry tools are in place to ensure the integrity of our systems and networks,” Corder said.

Rishel noted that over the last decade, hackers tend to target less individuals and more cities in ransomware attacks. He explained, “Ransomware attacker is going to attack an organization because they’re going to have more value, that data is going to be more valuable, and they’re willing to pay more to get it back.”

According to Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigation Report, ransomware use has grown more than 40 percent since 2013. Such attacks can disable servers that vital city resources. In Pascagoula’s case, the police department’s computer systems were temporarily compromised. Corder said they are backed up with intermittent outages as a reworking of the system is finalized.

Billy Suthoff with AGJ Systems and Networks believes fake links are the most common way to spread malware. He warned people to watch out for suspicious messages from old friends you don’t normally speak to or fake deliveries. “They say we delivered your package or your mail or your whatever. Click her to track it and find out where we delivered it," said Suthoff, describing one scenario.

Corder reassures residents that no personal information was compromised to their knowledge.

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