Schemes and Ripoffs

Florida cities targeted by international cyberhackers demanding bitcoin ransom

Mike Holfeld

Lake City and Riviera Beach Florida agreed to pay a combined total of roughly $1 million within the last eight days after international cyberhackers encrypted and froze the computer files of both city governments.

Lake City Mayor Stephen Witt said he was stunned hackers would target the tiny city, known as the Gateway to Florida.

“I would have never dreamed this could have happened, especially in a small town like this,” Witt said.

Lake City’s computer files were hacked on June 10. The city said the hackers issued a ransom demand of 42 Bitcoins, estimated to be worth $480,000 for the release of the stolen files.

The city council voted this week to pay the ransom through a city insurance policy.

In May, another small Florida town, Riviera Beach, with 34,000 residents, was hacked after a police department employee opened an email attachment.

On June 17, the city council voted unanimously to pay a ransom of 65 Bitcoins, valued at just under $600,000.

In both cases insurance policies covered the main portion of the ransom demands.

Danny Jenkins, CEO of Threatlocker.com, an Orlando cybersecurity company, told WKMG News 6 he received 70 calls from cities and small businesses after news of the Riviera Beach hack spread.

“A lot of cities have been hit,” Jenkins said. “This one (Riviera Beach) just got hit hard.”

Alan Liska, Senior Solutions Architect with cybersecurity firm Recorded Future.com, told WKMG-TV
there are various types of email campaigns that are used in the cyberattacks.

According to Liska, the two most common are PDF and Microsoft Word Attachments used in what he termed “attacks of opportunity.”

“The ransom notes are pretty consistent," Liska said. "In fact, often, that is the first indicator as to which ransomware variant has attacked you.”

Liska said the Ryuk ransom note is “almost always” a text file called "RyukReadMe.txt"

RecordedFuture.com recently reviewed media reports and data and found 48 states and the District of Columbia had been hit by cyberhackers demanding ransom for encrypted files.

No Central Florida cities have reported a ransomware attack.

Cassandra Anne Lafser, press secretary for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office said cyber security is “a top focus and priority of the city of Orlando.”

“While we are not able to give any details on our specific security measures, as that would compromise any of those efforts, I can tell you we take Cybersecurity seriously and as the threats evolves, so is the City of Orlando,” she said.

According to RecordedFuture.com, only Delaware and Kentucky had not reported a ransomware hack.
Jenkins is one of several security experts who would have advised against paying the ransom.

“It puts a target on the back of Florida cities,” he said.

For more information go to threatlocker.com and recordedfuture.com.

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