Cyber expert: Hacking of Atlanta City Hall likely a crime of opp - CBS46 News

Cyber expert: Hacking of Atlanta City Hall likely a crime of opportunity

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Thursday’s cyberattack on the city of Atlanta’s computer system was likely a crime of opportunity. So says a cybersecurity expert tasked with protecting Fortune 500 companies from cyberpredators.

“These sorts of ransomware attacks are relatively common,” said Alex DeFreese, a senior security analyst for Atlanta security consulting firm Bishop Fox.

Though DeFreese is not involved in the investigation into the breach that has crippled the city of Atlanta’s computer systems, he has extensive knowledge of cyberattacks. Part of his job is to serve as a penetration tester.

“Basically that’s a fancy term saying I’m a hacker, except I hack people that ask us to, and then we tell them how to fix all the problems that we find.”

DeFreese explained that ransomware is malicious software that takes over a computer or a system and encrypts it “so that you can’t access the contents unless you have the key,” he said, “and then they take that key and they ship it back to their servers and they hold the information and the systems and the drives and whatever ransom until you either manage to revert from a backup or pay them however much they’re asking for it.”

Typically, he said, the hackers are professional criminals, often based overseas where regulations aren’t as tight as they are in the U.S.

“My expectation here is what happened is they were just scanning the internet, found a system they could compromise, got it, spread,” said DeFreese. “And then after that, they realized, ‘Oh, no, we just compromised a government.’”

DeFreese said the hackers are likely a bit nervous now with all the publicity and knowing Homeland Security and the FBI on their tail. DeFreese said he has clients who’ve gone through the very thing the city of Atlanta is going through right now – having their computer systems held hostage for ransom. He said city leaders are most likely scrambling right now.

“They’ve got to be trying to figure out if they have the right backup solution in place, if they have to pay the ransom,” he said. “If they do pay the ransom, what are the chances they’d be able to get the money back – all that sort of stuff. It must be an absolute nightmare for them.”

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