New Orleans declared a state of emergency and shut down its computers after a cyber security event, the latest in a string of city and state governments to be attacked by hackers.
Suspicious activity was spotted around 5 a.m. Friday morning. By 8 a.m., there was an uptick in that activity, which included evidence of phishing attempts and ransomware, Kim LaGrue, the city’s head of IT said in a press conference. Once the city confirmed it was under attack, servers and computers were shut down.
While ransomware was detected there are no requests made to the city of New Orleans at this time, but that is very much a part of our investigation, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said during a press conference.
Numerous local and state governments have been plagued by ransomware, a file-encrypting malware that demands money for the decryption key. Pensacola, Florida and Jackson County, Georgia are just a few examples of the near-constant stream of ransomeware attacks over the past year. Louisiana state government was attacked in November, prompting officials to deactivate government websites and other digital services and causing the governor to declare a state of emergency. It was the state’s second declaration related to a ransomware attack in less than six months.
Governments and local authorities are particularly vulnerable as they’re often underfunded and unresourced, and unable to protect their systems from some of the major threats.
New Orleans, it appears was somewhat prepared, which officials said was the result of training and its ability to operate without internet. The investigation is in its early stages, but for now it appears that city employees didn’t interact with or provide credentials or any information to possible attackers, according to officials.
“If there is a positive about being a city that has been touched by disasters and essentially been brought down to zero in the past, is that our plans and activity from a public safety perspective reflect the fact that we can operate with internet, without city networking,” said Collin Arnold, director of Homeland Security, adding that they’ve gone back to pen and paper for now.
Police, fire and EMS are prepared to work outside of the city’s internet network. Emergency communications are not affected by the cybersecurity incident, according to city officials. However, other services such as scheduling building inspections are being handled manually.
New Orleans’s Real-Time Crime Center does work off the city network, however the cameras throughout the city record independently, so right now all of those cameras are still recording regardless of connectivity to the city’s network, Arnold added.
Federal, state and local officials are now involved in an investigation into the security incident.