Risk Management: Municipalities Become Popular New Targets for Cyber Attacks

Oct 04, 2019

Risk Management: Municipalities Become Popular New Targets for Cyber Attacks

By Mike Salazar

Ransomware is the fastest growing malware threat, targeting users of all types from the house to the corporate network – and now local governments. The targets can lead to temporary or permanent loss of sensitive or propriety information causing not only disruption of work, but also financial losses.

Texas is the latest state to be hit with a cyberattack with officials confirming this week that computer systems in 23 towns were attacked by criminals demanding ransom.  The FBI and state cybersecurity experts are examining the breach that began last Friday, August 16, 2019.  In Borger, Texas officials have said the attack is preventing the city from collecting utility payments from any of its 13,250 residents along with other disruptions.    

This attack was unique because it was coordinated targeting at least 23 Texas towns.  “What’s unique about this attack and something we hadn’t seen before is how coordinated attack this attack is” said Allen Liska, a threat intelligence analysist with Recorded Future, a global real-time cyber threat intelligence provider.  Recorded Future, has found that ransomware attacks aimed at state and local government have been on the rise, finding at least 169 examples of hackers breaking into government computer systems since 2013. Liska reports there are more than 60 attacks on municipalities already this year.

Now more than ever it is important that manufacturers take the time and resources to protect and reinforce/evaluate their current prevention strategies and get cyber liability coverage in place.

Educating your employees is the key to ensuring attackers don’t get the upper hand. Reminding employees to never open unsolicited links or attachments in emails and bringing workforce awareness to the issue is step one in protecting your network. Prevention is the most effective defense against cyber criminals.

Your IT Network Team plays a major role in protecting your organization. Check out these tips from The U.S. Government (USG) on how your organization can be proactive and prevent your computer networks from falling victim to ransomware:


  • Implement an awareness and training program. Employees should be aware of the threat of ransomware and how it’s delivered
  • Enable strong spam filters to prevent phishing emails from reaching end users (employees)
  • Scan all incoming and outgoing emails to detect threats and filter executable files
  • Configure firewalls to block access to known malicious IP addresses
  • Patch operating systems, software and firmware on devices
  • Set anti-virus and anti-malware programs to conduct regular scans automatically
  • Manage the use of administrative access – only those that absolutely need it should have access and should only use them when necessary
  • Configure access controls – including file, directory and network share permissions
  • Disable macro scripts form office files transmitted via email
  • Implement Software Restriction Policies (SRP) or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations, such as temporary folders, popular Internet browsers or compression/decompression programs
  • Consider disabling Remote Desktop protocol (RDP) if it is not being used
  • Use application whitelisting, which only allows systems to execute programs known and permitted by security policies
  • Execute operating system environments or specific programs in a virtualized environment
    Categorize data based on organizational value and implement physical and logical separation of networks and data for different organization units
  • Back up data regularly and verify the integrity of those backups often. It’s important to not forget to secure the backups and make sure they are not connected permanently to the computers and networks they are backing up.
  • Conduct an annual penetration test and vulnerability assessment


If your preventive measures fail, cyber liability coverage can help.  Contact a Gregory & Appel team member today to see how we can help keep your organization from falling victim to cyber criminals’ attacks. We are here to help protect your assets and keep you from losing a greater financial loss.