City and county governments in Georgia are on high alert after Jackson County paid a $400,000 ransom to recover data that was lost in a cyberattack in March. In a separate incident that happened on April 18th, the systems of The Weather Channel in Atlanta were infected with ransomware, disrupting the channel’s live broadcast for 90 minutes before IT staff addressed the issue through backups.
This latest round of incidents shows how threats like ransomware pose significant risks to the privacy and security of mission-critical files, as well as the integrity of the infrastructures that store, process, and manage them. When these IT systems are compromised, they can negatively impact operations, stakeholder trust, and the bottom line.
As the provider of cybersecurity and backups for several municipalities, Athens Micro has seen increased local interest in how governments can better protect their data and applications.
Hyper-local attacks, far-reaching consequences
The lack of cybersecurity in the public sector was exposed by the notorious WannaCry ransomware in 2017, where the reliance on outdated IT systems allowed the threat to spread, infecting thousands of devices across healthcare institutions.
Atlanta has been moving forward, but unlike entities that can heavily invest in cybersecurity, municipal governments remain vulnerable to cyberattacks. Unfortunately, smaller organizations in the public sector don’t always have the financial capacity to attract and keep high quality in-house IT security professionals and the latest security technologies.
Local governments are faced with two hard facts: first, that connectivity is a risk, and second, that data is an asset. There needs to be a direct correlation between how much an organization values its data and its efforts to manage and secure it accordingly. Because connectivity and data are intertwined, leaders are beginning to recognize that threats such as ransomware are risks that must be taken seriously.
Overcoming challenges and improving data literacy
Organizations and institutions at the state, county, and city level are grappling with creating policy that concerns data privacy, data sharing, data handling, and data storage, but the need for protection cannot wait.
The ultimate cybersecurity goal of local governments is to safeguard connectivity and data. It’s not about investing in the latest and greatest technologies but about implementing the technology properly. Hiring security experts or training your IT staff is probably the best initial investment that an organization can make. Here are some best practices that agencies should follow:
- Regularly back up files – backing up copies of critical data eliminates an attacker’s leverage
- Keep systems and applications updated – routinely install official updates or use virtual patching for legacy or unpatchable systems and software to address exploitable vulnerabilities
- Secure system administration tools – enforce the principle of least privilege so that attackers could not abuse access rights, implement network segmentation, and disable third-party outdated components that could be used as entry points
- Secure email – thwart threats such as spam, make sure to use proper email security software, and educate and train staff to avoid opening suspicious emails
- Foster a culture of security in the workplace – awareness of the latest threats and how to avoid them helps secure the organization from attacks
Athens Micro serves as a trusted cybersecurity provider to both private and public sector institutions, including city and county governments. We implement security strategies that fit your needs, including protecting critical data, warding off security threats, eliminating malicious programs in your network, and more. It’s well worth the peace of mind knowing your organization’s data and assets are much more secure with the right solutions. Call us today for more details.
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