Louisiana gov. John bel Edwards (d) declared a statewide emergency this week following cyber attacks on several school districts.
In a first for Louisiana, the governor has declared a state of emergency over a cybersecurity issue after a series of attacks shut down phones and locked and encrypted data at three of the state’s school districts.
Gov. John bel Edwards declared the emergency Wednesday. His office has said the threat is “ongoing.”It’s an escalation of a problem that has plagued states and cities in the past year, including Atlanta, Baltimore, several cities in Florida, and others throughout the country. Cybercriminals have increasingly targeted state and local governments with ransomware tools – which infect an organization’s computer networks and lock up critical files in exchange for a ransom payment.
Unlike most companies that have been hit by ransomware, and can handle ransomware attacks and transactions privately, states and municipalities are often forced to make their payments and woes public. The publicity around the attacks often forces governments to quickly pay up to get back online and keep their residents happy. This often forces a new and painful cycle that shows no signs of slowing down.
In Louisiana, the incidents have disrupted school districts in sabine, Morehouse and Ouachita parishes in north Louisiana. Phones, files, and computer equipment have been inaccessible. The districts have said federal law enforcement is helping with the issues.
“The sabine parish school system was hit with an electronic virus early Sunday morning,” reads a statement on the school district’s website. “this virus has disabled some of our technology systems and our central office phone system. The district staff reported this electronic viral attack to local law enforcement, state officials and the FBI. All available resources are being utilized to get the district systems back online. An investigation involving local, state and federal law enforcement is ongoing at this time.”
The emergency declaration allows Louisiana to access resources from the state’s national guard, technology office, state police, and other organizations, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
This declaration is the first activation of the emergency support functions of Louisiana’s cybersecurity commission, which was first established by governor Edwards in 2017. Edwards declared then that Louisiana is “an international leader in regards to cybersecurity capabilities.” how well the state responds to these attacks—including discovering the actors behind them, and establishing and truthfully disclosing the actual nature and extent of data both lost and exfiltrated during them—will do much toward outlining the veracity of that statement.
Few states or cities have declared states of emergency over information technology problems, and only one agency – the colorado department of transportation – has made such a declaration in the past, because of a ransomware attack.
Recent months have seen a spate of ransomware attacks against various cities, some of which have resulted in criminal gangs successfully extorting millions of dollars.
A surprising number of cities it seems are prepared to resort to paying a hacker’s ransomware demand if they can’t restore data easily or quickly enough, or without incurring more expense than the extortionists themselves are requesting. This inevitably encourages more ransomware gangs to try their luck by targeting what they view as low-hanging fruit.