A different response following a cyber attack

We read a lot of stories in the news about business and government entities being targeted with malware or ransomware attacks. Some of those entities have not taken their cyber security seriously and are reaping what they have sown but others just simply do not have the resources to do so. These attacks can be devastating, not only for the businesses or government offices but for the people who need or rely on those services and one has taken a step back in time to help overcome an attack they suffered.

An attack in Alaska

On July 24 a ransomware attack was launched on the borough of Matanuska-Susitna (known more famously as Mat-Su) in Alaska. The Borough (Alaska’s equivalent of a county) has a population of about 89,000 people in it. It is located just north of the state’s largest city of Anchorage. The area is relatively rural and is bisected by the Susitna River, the Alaska Railroad and only one major highway, the Parks Highway, which links Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

Nearly all of the 500 desktop computers in the borough were infected as well as 120 servers. The computers were running either Windows 7 or Windows 10. The attack was also much more extensive targeting the telephone system as well as the door lock system. One component of the attack was caught by McAfee anti-virus software a week before but the rest was missed. Seeing the first stages of a cyber attack all users were forced to change passwords and that appears to have triggered the ransomware and everthing escalated from there.

The response

The borough did not want to pay the ransom and set about rebuilding its machines. It appears that some data is recoverable but most of it appears to be lost. The infected files will be retained in the hopes that the FBI can decrypt them at some point. In all 650 computers and servers are being rebuilt. It appears that Mat-Su is not alone, even in their own state. The cities of Fairbanks and Valdez were also hit.

For the employees of Mat-Su business did not stop. Given the large area of the borough it may not have been practical for people to simply come back later so employees did the only thing that they could do: they got out the pen and paper and dusted off the typewriters. Considering that the price of disposing of anything in Alaska is high it should be no surprise that they would still have a few typewriters on hand and for some it may have been a step back in time to walk into the offices and hear the clatter of on of them. At the very least they can’t be hacked! But this is once again a reminder of the importance of keeping your computers up to date.

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