Pennsylvania Senate Democrat’s Computers Encrypted by Ransomware Attack

Media Division | March 6, 2017

Politicians and leaders can be extremely lucrative targets for cyber attackers.  Because of the secure and privileged data and positions that they hold, they can be leveraged by attackers to obtain illicit funds.  There have been multiple instances of political institutions being targeted for purposes including attempting to gain payouts, or for obtaining intelligence.  Though, cyber attacks can also be randomized, and not targeted toward a particular institution for any reason other than malicious intent.  In a recent cyber attack, Senate Democrats of Pennsylvania were hit by a ransomware attack that locked up their systems.

Details of the Attack

The attack was discovered early Friday morning by information technology staff after receiving an alert that their network had been breached.  Senate Democratic leader, Jay Costa would not disclose the ransom that was being demanded, though he did mention that it has not been paid, and there is no inclination to do so.  The network that was affected provides services such as email access, file storage, and web hosting for all 16 Pennsylvania senators, and their individual websites were affected as well.  The hackers have given a one-week time limit before the encrypted data will be destroyed.  As of Monday, the computer and email system remained inaccessible.

The attack is currently under investigation by the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh FBI offices. Costa had also said in a statement, “Officials from the caucus have been in contact with law enforcement to investigate the incident and are working with Microsoft to restore the IT system. There is currently no indication that the caucus system was targeted or that any data has been compromised.” A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia FBI office had stated that under Department of Justice policy, they will provide no details or updates in regard to the investigation unless charges are filed.  They had also stated that it appears that only the PA senators were affected by the attack. Costa said that at this time, the Senate Democrats are focusing on restoring the network, which contains a wide range of documents, including policy work and constituent case files.

The Prominence of Ransomware

Attacks like the above are being launched every single day.  In fact, ransomware tends to be one of the most common forms of cyber attack, though it is most definitely not the only method that is heavily employed.  In fact, ransomware was able to extort individuals and organizations for about one billion dollars last year, a record high for the malware. One of the reasons that ransomware is highly employed is that it can be quite simple for an attacker to infect a system through a simple phishing email or malicious link.  One wrong click from an undereducated and unsuspecting employee can be the downfall of an entire network.  Ransomware can demand varying amounts, ranging from a few hundred dollars, up into the tens of thousands, depending on the organization they are attempting to extort.

Employing Proper Cyber Security to Prevent Cyber Attacks

Cyber attacks are more prominent than ever in our golden age of technology, and that is why cyber security must be very formidable to defend against them.  A single breach can cause a wide range of damages, from financial and data theft to hellacious reputational damage.  Many methods can be employed to help defend an organization from attacks, and it is critical that businesses establish proper cyber security.  Massive Alliance’s wide range of cyber security services can help businesses of all types and sizes to prevent cyber attacks.

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