Carmel website hacked, city shuts it downSeptember 20, 2020
What you need to know about Carmel, Ind. Chris Sikich/IndyStar
The FBI is looking into Friday’s hack of the Carmel website, which has shut down for the day, but that city officials said has not seriously disrupted operations.
‘We are aware of the incident and are providing assistance to the City of Carmel IT staff,” said Chris Bavender, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Indianapolis.
Bavender would not comment on whether a ransomware cyber attack, in which hackers demand money, was suspected. But the FBI has sent out warnings in the past that such attacks are increasing in prevalence.
The Carmel website was attacked at 8 a.m. Friday, and the city shut it down immediately. It was still down at 4 p.m.
Users trying to log onto to the website at one point were greeted with a warning message: “Attackers might be trying to steal your information from www.carmel.in.gov (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards).”
City spokesman Dan McFeely said the website contains only public information and that citizen transactions with the city, such as utility bill payments, are handled on “third party websites” and were not compromised.
“City services continued to remain open on Friday and those who needed specific services were asked to call that department or the main line into City Hall,” McFeely said in an email. “The investigation into how this happened is still ongoing.”
Ransonware attacks on municipalities and private institutions have become big business for criminal organizations and some foreign governments, said Scott Shackelford, chairman of Indiana University’s Cybersecurity Program.
“The amount of money is dwarfing that from illegal drugs,” Shackelford said.
Increasingly the hackers are targeting municipal governments, including school districts, he said.
Shackelford said there were 170 such attacks in 2019 and many cities have paid the ransom, which average about $80,000, though the FBI advises against paying the ransoms.
He said the attacks disrupt city services and shut down websites, on average, about 10 days.
The hackers are also breaking into large hospital systems and demanding greater amounts of money, Shackelford said.
Many of the cities attacked tend to be small and have less sophisticated cyber safeguards, but bigger cities aren’t immune. Atlanta was attacked in 2018. After New Orleans was attacked last December, the city’s mayor declared a state of emergency, according to published reports. And two Florida cities paid the ransoms: Riviera Beach, $600,000, and Lake City, $500,000.
The FBI announced the indictments of two men in November 2018 for a slew of ransomware attacks. Agents said ransomware called SamSam was used to infiltrate computer networks in Atlanta, Newark and San Diego, as well as those of major health care providers, the University of Calgary and others from 2014 until September 2018.
The malware encrypted data and files and SamSam demanded payment by virtual currency to restore access to affected systems.
The FBI said the hacks caused more than $30 million in losses to more than 200 hospitals, schools and other entities.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski called ransom cyber attacks “21st-century blackmail” at the time.
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