Today’s digital world has presented challenges that leaders 20 years ago couldn’t have anticipated. One of these is the threat of cyberattacks. Municipalities, which often have lower budgets for cybersecurity and less-advanced technology than state entities, have become ever-more-popular targets for hackers using ransomware. Such an attack struck North Texas recently, leaving officials on guard.
Systems breached, information stolen
The North Texas Municipal Water District recently suffered a cyberattack that should serve as an example to other municipalities throughout Texas. Hackers calling themselves Daixin Team used ransomware to breach the district’s cybersecurity measures. Ransomware is a form of malware that blocks an entity’s access to its own systems. Daixin Team claims that it stole more than 33,000 files that include residents’ Social Security numbers and medical information. It threatened to post this information publicly unless it receives money.
How hackers target municipalities
The hacking group used techniques that have become all too familiar to cities and counties. Unscrupulous hackers will breach a municipality’s cybersecurity using methods such as:
- Phishing emails
- Other malware
- Weaknesses in VPN servers
- Vulnerabilities in cloud servers
The hackers will then steal confidential information and/or prevent officials from accessing their systems. The end goal is to force the victim to pay the perpetrator a ransom. Particularly disruptive hackers may even take control over infrastructure, water, waste management and other municipal services.
The increasing danger of cyberattacks in Texas
Five municipalities in Texas have been victims of hacking attacks in 2023. Just a month ago, Dallas County experienced a similar cyberattack. Fortunately, in the case of the North Texas Municipal Water District, the hack did not disrupt the supply of water and the district regained access to most of its systems. However, future victims might not be as fortunate.