September 03, 2019

The Rise of Municipal Ransomware

America’s smallest cities and towns stand on the frontlines of cyber warfare.

By Kara Frederick

Last month’s coordinated ransomware attacks against 23 cities in Texas reflect a troubling trend for America’s cities: bad actors are addicted to the payoff. In the 30 years since the first ransomware attack, the digital environment has changed beyond recognition, and it will only continue to mutate—by next year, approximately 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, and by 2025, almost 5 billion people will have access to the web. This presents an ever-growing opportunity for cybercriminals to wreak havoc—with local governments frequently in their crosshairs.

In the simplest terms, ransomware is malware that locks up data until the victim pays money to regain access. Established ransomware tactics involve holding a user’s data hostage for a few hundred dollars in Bitcoin. But attackers also make use of new ransomware strains like “Ryuk” and “SamSam” that target and infect entire organizations, and the demands for money increase exponentially. For instance, SamSam’s ransomware extortions average about $50,000 per attack. In August, a “single threat actor” likely compromised a managed-service provider—a company that manages numerous IT systems or services—to conduct attacks against Texas municipalities, demanding a collective 2.5 million dollars. But even after cities pay up, attackers may continue to target them and their insurers.

Read the full article in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.

  • Commentary
    • The Jamestown Foundation
    • April 1, 2020
    Global Supply Chains, Economic Decoupling, and U.S.-China Relations, Part 1: The View from the United States

    The trade war has defined the current adversarial relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While President Donald J. Trump has at times...

    By Sagatom Saha & Ashley Feng

  • Commentary
    • The Wall Street Journal
    • March 27, 2020
    Health Surveillance Is Here to Stay

    Washington’s post-9/11 debate about how much surveillance a free society should allow has suddenly become about much more than counterterrorism and national security. Amid tod...

    By Carrie Cordero & Richard Fontaine

  • Commentary
    • March 27, 2020
    Sharper: Global Coronavirus Response

    As regions across the United States enforce states of emergency and a growing list of countries restrict travel, close schools, and quarantine citizens, the economic and human...

    By Chris Estep & Cole Stevens

  • Commentary
    • Global Digital Finance
    • March 27, 2020
    Banks Are Most Likely Exposed to Crypto-Assets Unknowingly

    U.S. financial regulators are watching closely to see how financial institutions’ exposure to the crypto-asset industry is affecting their bank anti-money laundering complianc...

    By Yaya J. Fanusie

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia