As Ransomware Attacks Grow, Groups Tell States and Municipalities to Be Vigilant

Even before a major cyberattack on local governments in Texas, associations and trade groups were calling on states and municipalities to change their security practices.

A major ransomware attack affecting numerous government agencies in Texas is putting associations on the responsive—and highlighting their calls for taking preventive action elsewhere.

The state’s Department of Information Resources revealed on Friday that nearly two dozen Texas towns had been affected by a ransomware attack, with a single bad actor believed at fault. While many of the affected parties are still in an initial response mode, more than a quarter of the agencies have transitioned to recovery mode.

Numerous state and federal agencies stepped up to assist in the response effort, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas A&M University’s Critical Incident Response Team, the FBI’s cybersecurity arm, and the Department of Homeland Security.

At least one association, the Texas Public Power Association, has been in touch with the state, and its executive director, Russ Keene, emphasizes that the group and its members are ready to help.

“While this ransomware breach targeted law enforcement agencies at the county and municipal level and was quickly contained, TPPA members are nonetheless on point for enhanced cybersecurity planning and system reinforcement,” Keene said in a story on the American Public Power Association (APPA) website.

While the attack did not affect associations, they are offering guidance on how to improve outcomes in case of a cyberattack. APPA, for example, has built a Public Power Cyber Incident Response Playbook, intended for organizations that may be affected by widely spreading ransomware attacks.

And a few weeks ago, a number of largely state-focused associations—the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), the National Governors Association, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center—put out a call recommending that state and local governments take steps to defend themselves against a ransomware attack.

Among the steps they recommended are daily backups of critical systems, a focus on reinforcing cybersecurity education, and a revisiting of cyber incident response plans.

“The growing number of such attacks highlights the critical importance of making cyber preparedness a priority and taking the necessary steps to secure our networks against adversaries. Prevention is the most effective defense against ransomware,” the groups said.

Ransomware is one of the most prominent ways that businesses are being attacked these days, and the risks are growing for organizations big and small. At a session during ASAE’s 2019 Annual Meeting & Exposition, speakers emphasized the importance of preparedness when tackling issues of cyber risk.

“You have to be prepared, you have to train your staff, you have to get into the point of understanding,” Ray Arambula, IT operations manager for the American Society of Radiologic Technologists, said during the event. “This is a part of everyone’s job to do in their organization.”

(RamCreativ/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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