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New York State Responded to Cyber Attack on Government Servers Weeks Before Coronavirus Pandemic Hit

Officials handled an attack that disabled access to state agency databases just a few weeks before the state became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis.

Just before New York became the center of the coronavirus pandemic, state officials were grappling with a massive cyber attack targeting state agency information systems that took almost a month to fully address.

The Albany Times Union reported that the January attack, believed to have originated from hackers outside the U.S., disabled access to databases regularly used by New York state police, the state environmental department and the civil service department.

The incident was previously unreported and did not reveal the personal information of residents or state employees, according to state officials. Hackers were also not able to steal or expose information from the databases, said Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“With the review complete, there is no evidence that personal data of any New York resident, employee, or any other individuals were compromised or have been taken from our network,” Azzopardi said. “In the meantime, ITS (Office of Information Technology Services) has taken actions to further harden our network and protect the integrity of our system.”

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Officials believe that the New York attack was part of a massive worldwide hacking campaign on Citrix NetScalers, which are used to “facilitate communications between computer users,” according to the Times Union. On Jan. 28, technicians found that seven of the devices were hacked at the state’s main server farm in Albany.

Citrix announced in mid-December that it had found a potential security flaw with its system, making 80,000 companies vulnerable to attack. Patches were sent out to fix the issue, but it appears that state officials did not make the change in time to prevent the installation of malware that blocked access to the databases.

CrowdStrike was hired to conduct a three-week forensic investigation on more than 40 computer servers, the Times Union reported. The attack has not interfered with the pandemic response efforts coordinated by the state government, but the state is footing the bill for CrowdStrik’s endpoint monitoring system that tracks potential suspicious activity on networks.

As Azzopardi told the newspaper: “It’s the cost of doing business these days.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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