Cyberattack blackout: A warning to cities

A security expert says that while no businesses are safe from cyber hackers, cities appear to have become preferred targets for ransomware criminals

A recent ransomware strike on City Power Johannesburg is a warning that cyberattacks could easily debilitate cities, according to security expert John McLoughlin. Commenting on the attack, which caused blackouts across Johannesburg, McLoughlin says cities seem to have become preferred targets for ransomware criminals.

He points out that though City Power Johannesburg successfully restored its encrypted servers within hours of the security breach, depending on the severity of the attack it could take days, weeks or even months to recover critical data.

McLoughlin, who is CEO of a software company, says breaching cyber security is a money-making business that will continue to grow. “Everybody is a target – the size of the business doesn’t matter.”

He recommends that, in the case of a ransomware demand from hackers, no payment be made. “There is no guarantee that you will get your information back and, regardless, as a victim you will have to set up a new system and restore the files that were encrypted. Also remember, with ransomware, the first thing hackers aim to do is to delete backups if they are not segmented from the network.”

McLoughlin says government and business principals need to fully understand what impact a cyberattack can have on service delivery. “Leaders need to accept that a cyberattack is going to happen and must focus their attention on how to recover their systems and restore them as fast as possible to minimise damage. Remember, every single recovery method will have already been anticipated by the hackers.”

He says a starting point for businesses is to plan ahead for possible attacks and have secure strategies in place for incident response. “Companies need to ensure that all systems can be totally recovered – not just data. Data recovery is usually easy when done correctly, but recovering an entire system can take time, even with a complete backup.”

McLoughlin says there are third-party companies that can provide backup solutions through cloud-based networks. “Having the security of those backups as part of a strategy is imperative. Businesses just need to ensure that they can restore or rebuild their systems and be confident that they have what is required to do so.”

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