• Schwalm Tech

Three Lessons From the Baltimore Ransomware Attacks



In May 2019, a ransomware attack wreaked havoc across Baltimore. City water customers couldn’t gain answers to questions about their bills, the City Council abruptly canceled a public hearing on gun violence, city servers shut down, and real estate market transfers were put on hold until those servers were restored. The effects of the attack continued for several weeks.


The hackers who planted the ransomware demanded 13 bitcoin (worth more than $75,000) to call off the attack — which eventually was resolved with assistance from the FBI. However, it wasn’t the first time the city had been targeted. A hack in 2018 succeeded in shutting down all of Charm City’s 911 services.


Could Baltimore have done anything to prevent the attacks? Absolutely. Being more proactive would have definitely helped. Here are a few lessons other cities (as well as private enterprises) can take away from the fiasco.


1. Failure to Invest in IT Infrastructure Has Consequences

Why was Baltimore targeted? Likely because the city had a well-documented failure to invest in and nurture information technology systems. Hackers search out vulnerabilities, and Baltimore clearly had them. The city lost four chief information officers in five years before the attacks, due to resignations and firings.


Baltimore has also admitted to spending about 50 percent of what other cities of similar sizes spend on IT, likely meaning a serious lack of investment in protection. Plus, the city budgeted IT so that individual state departments controlled the budget instead of putting it under the city to oversee. That meant different departments spent on different things without making any cohesive efforts to eliminate cyberthreats.


2. Cloud-Based Email Systems Can Save a Lot of Headaches

Baltimore had run the bulk of its email system through a server in the city data center. Only one department had shifted to a cloud-based format when the ransomware attack took place. Moving your email system to the cloud is a necessity for any business that wants to protect internal and external communications. The benefits of a cloud-based email system include:

>>> Better security and protection than an internal system

>>> No need for regular backup

>>> Scalable to your organization’s needs

>>> It's the cloud! It's amazing


3. You Need a Plan to Deal With Disaster

By most accounts, Baltimore lacked a plan to deal with any type of IT infrastructure disaster. That’s why it took so long for the city to recover from the attack.


When you have no response prepared for a threat, you will scramble when it happens. You spend so much time trying to stop the bleeding, you can’t address the shortcoming that led to the problem in the first place. This continues to leave your organization vulnerable to threats.


Baltimore’s ransomware disaster is an excellent reminder of the critical importance of good IT practices in keeping your organization safe from hackers. In the long run, any cost savings you may think you are reaping by cutting corners on IT upkeep will be wiped out by what you pay after an attack. Investing in information technology is the best way to keep your business safe.

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