With pa­per and phones, At­lanta strug­gles to re­cover from cy­ber at­tack

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

AT­LANTA (Reuters) - At­lanta’s top of­fi­cials holed up in their of­fices on Satur­day as they worked to re­store crit­i­cal sys­tems knocked out by a nine-day-old cy­ber at­tack that plunged the South­east­ern US me­trop­o­lis into tech­no­log­i­cal chaos and forced some city work­ers to re­vert to pa­per.

On an Easter and Passover hol­i­day week­end, city of­fi­cials la­bored in prepa­ra­tion for the work­week to come.

Po­lice and other pub­lic ser­vants have spent the past week try­ing to piece to­gether their dig­i­tal work lives, re­cre­at­ing au­dit spread­sheets and con­duct­ing busi­ness on mo­bile phones in re­sponse to one of the most dev­as­tat­ing “ran­somware” virus at­tacks to hit an Amer­i­can city.

Three city coun­cil staffers have been shar­ing a sin­gle clunky per­sonal lap­top brought in af­ter cy­ber ex­tor­tion­ists at­tacked At­lanta’s com­puter net­work with a virus that scram­bled data and still pre­vents ac­cess to crit­i­cal sys­tems.

“It’s ex­traor­di­nar­ily frus­trat­ing,” said Coun­cil­man Howard Shook, whose of­fice lost 16 years of dig­i­tal records.

One com­pro­mised city com­puter seen by Reuters showed mul­ti­ple cor­rupted doc­u­ments with “weapol­o­gize” and “im­sorry” added to file names.

Ran­somware at­tacks have surged in re­cent years as cy­ber ex­tor­tion­ists moved from at­tack­ing in­di­vid­ual com­put­ers to large or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing busi­nesses, health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Pre­vi­ous high-pro­file at­tacks have shut down fac­to­ries, prompted hos­pi­tals to turn away pa­tients and forced lo­cal emer­gency dis­patch sys­tems to move to man­ual op­er­a­tions.

Ran­somware typ­i­cally cor­rupts data and does not steal it. The city of At­lanta has said it does not be­lieve pri­vate res­i­dents’ information is in the hands of hack­ers, but they do not know for sure.

City of­fi­cials have de­clined to dis­cuss the ex­tent of dam­age be­yond dis­closed out­ages that have shut down some services at mu­nic­i­pal of­fices, in­clud­ing courts and the wa­ter de­part­ment.

Nearly 6 mil­lion peo­ple live in the At­lanta met­ro­pol­i­tan area. The Ge­or­gia city it­self is home to more than 450,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the US Cen­sus Bureau.

City of­fi­cials told Reuters that po­lice files and fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments were ren­dered in­ac­ces­si­ble by un­known hack­ers who de­manded $51,000 worth of bit­coin to pro­vide dig­i­tal keys to un­lock scram­bled files.

“Ev­ery­thing on my hard drive is gone,” City Au­di­tor Amanda No­ble said in her of­fice housed in At­lanta City Hall’s or­nate tower.

City of­fi­cials have not dis­closed the ex­tent to which servers for back­ing up information on PCs were cor­rupted or what kind of information they think is un­re­cov­er­able with­out pay­ing the ran­som.

No­ble dis­cov­ered the dis­ar­ray on March 22 when she turned on her com­puter to dis­cover that files could not be opened af­ter be­ing en­crypted by a pow­er­ful com­puter virus known as SamSam that re­named them with gib­ber­ish. “I said, ‘This is wrong,’” she re­called. City of­fi­cials then quickly en­tered her of­fice and told her to shut down the com­puter be­fore warn­ing the rest of the build­ing.

No­ble is work­ing on a per­sonal lap­top and us­ing her smart­phone to search for de­tails of cur­rent projects men­tioned in emails stored on that de­vice.

Not all com­put­ers were com­pro­mised. Ten of 18 ma­chines in the au­dit­ing of­fice were not af­fected, No­ble said.

At­lanta po­lice re­turned to tak­ing writ­ten case notes and have lost ac­cess to some in­ves­tiga­tive data­bases, de­part­ment spokesman Car­los Campos told Reuters. He de­clined to dis­cuss the con­tents of the af­fected files.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Guyana

© PressReader. All rights reserved.