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  • BlackCat brought New York court into the 20th century

    The cyberattack forced civil servants to switch to pen and paper in their work.

    Suffolk County in New York has completed an investigation into a devastating ransomware attack that forced government employees to switch to pen and paper.

    A September 2022 attack leaked the confidential information of more than 1.5 million Long Island residents. The BlackCat/AlphV ransomware group claimed responsibility for the incident and released 400GB of stolen data, including thousands of Social Security Numbers (SSNs).

    The investigation found that hackers broke into the county court office in December 2021 using the Log4j vulnerability. For 8 months, cybercriminals were in the networks of the institution and installed miners, exfiltration tools, created fake accounts, collected credentials and installed remote monitoring tools.

    By August 2022, hackers managed to gain access to a folder containing passwords to "critical systems that were stored unprotected on the court's network." Then, within 3 hours, the attackers were able to infiltrate the institution's wider IT environment.

    Gaining access to this folder with passwords is one of the main reasons for the attack, as the folder gave hackers access to "database systems, servers, phone systems, backup systems, network devices, file shares, service accounts, critical operating systems, web hosting, anti-virus software, software for monitoring the network and other objects.

    After that, the hackers spent months laying the groundwork for the attack, and on September 1, they extracted massive data sets. On September 8, cybercriminals deployed ransomware. The attackers first demanded a ransom of $2.5 million and then lowered the price to $500,000. According to court documents, the ransomers never received the ransom.

    Despite such a long period of hackers being on the network, the attack affected only 1.6% of systems in all network domains. However, the consequences were far-reaching:

    Employees had to shut down email systems for more than 10,000 office workers, forcing many to use pen and paper to provide government services.
    Emergency dispatchers have been manually taking calls for weeks, and police have been using the radio to exchange crime information due to network outages.
    Contractors were paid by paper checks due to concerns that hackers were monitoring the transfer systems.

    The leaked data also contains driver's license numbers that are linked to 470,000 traffic violations, as well as information and contracts from the Suffolk County court, the sheriff's office and other agencies. The county said it would provide "identity protection" services to victims.

    Suffolk County Executive Stephen Bellone said the attack was due to the low cyber security of the office's systems. Bellone said the institution had long been asked to implement county-wide cybersecurity arrangements, but one IT staffer refused to do so. Moreover, the county allocated funds to install a security system that was never implemented.

    The district office is currently working with Cisco and Palo Alto Networks to restore the systems. It is noted that significant parts of the district network have been restored and have been operating for almost 2 months. The county reportedly spent nearly $5.5 million to restore systems and investigate the incident.

    Author DeepWeb
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