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What you need to know as cyber attackers target Alaska

Published on June 15, 2021

Keyboard with a green "cybersecurity" key.
Cybersecurity Image Credit: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Alaskans have been affected by cyberattacks in various ways, whether it’s leaked private information from the Permanent Fund Dividend program or the shutdown of online court or health department services.

The kinds of attackers and their motivations in targeting governmental organizations can also vary, says Chuck Benson, director of risk mitigation strategy for the ‘Internet of Things’ at the University of Washington.

The “bad guys,” as Benson calls them, can range from nation states engaging in a kind of simmering online warfare, to criminals looking to freeze an organization’s IT systems so they can demand ransom to unlock them. He says there are even partnerships between the two groups.

Chuck Benson: The core of this is that the complexity of the world is accelerating so quickly. Things are just even more complex every new day. I think the bad guys are more aware of that. They don’t have complexity mastered, but they’re more aware that it’s more chaotic than the nonbad guys are. I think the non-bad guys trust in systems, and we think it’s is going to work for the most part. But the bad guys know that that’s not the case and they exploit that difference in perception.

Casey Grove: Do they say, ‘Okay, I want to target the Alaska Department of Health,’ and then go from there? Or is it more of a passive search for vulnerabilities, wherever they might be with some sort of like automated code or something? How does that work?

Chuck Benson: It’s all the above.

The tools for doing malicious things is a very mature market and it has been for years. There are eBay equivalents, there are places you can go buy malicious code that even comes with support plans.

To be clear, I don’t know who or why or how the Alaska attacks happened. But attacking governments and city governments and local governments, often, I think that’s the case, because they’re under-resourced. Everybody is under-resourced for cybersecurity, but governments tend to be more so and so that makes them kind of an attractive target. Plus, if you get some good government disruption, then that can be a payoff for the bad guy.

Continue reading at Alaska Public Media

Originally written by Casey Grove for Alaska Public Media
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