On June 5, 2020, Florence, Alabama’s information technology systems were hit with ransomware by the DoppelPaymer group demanding a ransom payment of $378,000 in bitcoin. Mayor Steve Holt confirmed that the attack shut down the city’s email system, and that the city used an outside firm to negotiate the payment of a lower ransom of close to $300,000 to avoid the publishing of the information of citizens on the internet by the attackers.
The city was hit with the ransomware simultaneously as the information technology professionals were trying to get the City Council to approve funds to hire an outside firm to review the information technology systems. The irony is that those professionals were attempting to address risk, but municipal bureaucracy got in the way of being able to quickly and efficiently address a perceived cybersecurity risk. The unfortunate outcome is that the city is paying criminals almost $300,000 instead of using that budget, and taxpayer dollars, in shoring up the city’s cybersecurity needs. It’s a double whammy.
Municipalities continue to get hit hard with ransomware attacks. City professionals and elected officials may wish to consider and address this real and very expensive risk, determine how to respond to it with appropriate budgetary funding for prevention, and use the funds to minimize the risk instead of putting the funds in criminals’ hands and then having to spend double the amount to address the risk after the fact.