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Ransomware Attacks Hit 23 Texas Towns, Prompting Statewide Response

The state suspects that the attack, which took place Friday morning and targeted small local governments, was coordinated by “one single threat actor.”

After 23 towns in Texas were targeted by a coordinated ransomware attack on Friday, the state government is leading the response against what is suspected to be “one single threat actor,” according to the Texas Department of Information Resources.

In an update issued by the agency on Saturday, the DIR said the majority of the organizations hit by the attack were “smaller local governments.” The towns are just the latest victims of ransomware, a type of malware that locks computer systems and files until a ransom is paid to the hackers.

Cities like Atlanta and Baltimore have been targeted in recent years, with the latter still recovering from a May attack. In January, the town of Del Rio, Texas was forced to abandon electronic services and shut down all of its servers to prevent the spread of a similar attack.

Read more: How to Recover From A Ransomware Attack

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a “Level 2 Escalated Response” after the incident took place Friday morning, CNBC reported. That means the scope of the emergency has “expanded beyond that which can be handled by local responders,” according to Texas’ emergency management planning guide.

The state said that its own systems and networks have not been impacted, and that responders are “actively working with [affected] entities to bring their systems back online.” The DIR did not publish a list of the local governments that were hit by the attack, but said that all of the towns impacted by the malware were notified.

“Investigations into the origin of this attack are ongoing; however, response and recovery are the priority at this time,” the DIR wrote on Saturday.

Tim Erlin, the vice president of product management and strategy at security technology company Tripwire, said the coordinated attack represents an “escalation” in ransomware incidents.

“If this is really a coordinated attack, it’s hard to imagine how it’s a good thing for the ransomware attackers and for this specific criminal,” Erlin said. “Raising the bar on the response to a coordinated state level will decrease the likelihood that ransom will actually get paid, and increase the likelihood that both Texas and other states are better prepared for these events in the future.”

Pierluigi Stella, the chief technology officer of the Houston-based cybersecurity company Network Box USA, said that cities must recognize the urgency of improving their cybersecurity now rather than waiting to update their systems later.

“This is war, plain and simple,” Stella said. “And in war, you don’t go through budgets and boards and approvals. There is none of that bureaucracy and red tape in such instances.”

Stella added: “Government entities must find a way to properly empower someone to make decisions quickly, use the budget as necessary, when it’s necessary, and stay on top of issues as they arise, and certainly not two years later. Unless that happens, this will never be anything but a lost cause.”

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