Expense of attack more than ransom

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

In September, the U.S. House passed a resolution prohibiting ransom payments to Iran.

The Republican-led House was angry over the revelation that the U.S. paid a $1.7 billion “settlement” to Iran that coincided with the release of five detained Americans. The payment was made in unmarked foreign cash and airlifted to Iran.

Republicans issued statements noting that the payment served to fund more terrorism, put other traveling Americans at risk and would only spur future ransom demands.

However one looks at the debate, American lives were at stake.

Lives, however, were not at stake two weeks ago when Madison County government computers were hit by a hacker who encrypted information and made records impossible to retrieve.

Though human lives were safe, their government documents — property records and divorce filings among them — were in a position where they could be deleted from existence.

The hacker used what is known as Ransomware, a software that infiltrates computers. To have access restored, the “hostage” must pay a ransom using bitcoin, an internet monetary system that is hard to trace. Most payments are between $500 and $1,000 but there has been one recorded at $30,000.

If payment is not made, the hacker can delete the victim’s files.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission warned that Ransomware is emerging as one of the most serious online threats facing businesses.

To get access back, Madison County paid a reported $28,000 after being told by its cybersecurity insurer that it would be the more prudent route.

To fix the problem, the county will need to pay thousands of dollars to defend itself from future attacks. The problem will also impact individual communities in Madison County. All are subject to similar random attacks.

Training again will be crucial. Government and business employees need to be reminded that they shouldn’t open unwanted emails. Once a computer is infected, it needs to be unplugged from the network. Backing up data is a must. Those are just the start of security measures.

Foremost, government and business technology officials need to prepare for attacks. This may mean more premium payments to firms that offer cybersecurity insurance.

And the unsettling part is that the scope of Ransomware and other malware is unfathomable.

Americans commonly see action movies where the government doesn’t “negotiate with terrorists.” We learned in September that such a tough-guy stance wasn’t the approach in releasing five hostages from Iran.

On a less life-threatening level, residents in Madison County are learning that government officials here must negotiate with unknown Ransomware attackers.

Madison County government leaders were correct in paying the ransom. But now, taxpayers will be funding even more to protect online documents.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.