Several Cape May County government organizations have been the target of cyber attacks, prompting the county prosecutor to warn the public to take precautions.
County Prosecutor Robert Taylor said ransomware attacks, a malicious type of software that limits access to information until a ransom is paid, have been aimed at several government organizations.
Taylor, who issued the warning in a news release, did not specify the groups that were attacked. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cyber-security experts warn cyber attacks can happen to anyone at any time. Government agencies, hospitals and the general public continue to be the target of attacks around the world.
“It’s all over and it knows no borders,” said Joe Ingemi, an Atlantic County-based cyber-security consultant.
Cyber attacks, specifically ransomware, have made headlines through the world in recent years. In June, major firms, airports and government departments in Ukraine were paralyzed by an attack that also spread through parts of Europe.
Russia and the United Kingdom were hobbled by a massive attack in May.
Ransomware, the software of choice for both of those attacks, locks people out of their computers and demands payment to unlock it. Many times, the payment must be made using bitcoin.
“You’ll usually get a phishing attack,” Ingemi said. “You get an innocuous email, click the link, and then it releases its payload.”
One specific attack discovered by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office was a fraudulent UPS link through email that launched ransomware. The link was one digit or character off from a legitimate UPS link, the prosecutor said in a statement.
The attacks can come from anywhere, Ingemi said. They can come from a foreign government, or a local hacker trying to cause trouble.
“There have been a lot of issues with Russia,” Ingemi said. “China and North Korea have also been responsible for some attacks.”
Two years ago, four casinos in Atlantic City were hit with a cyber attack that knocked their online gambling options offline for 30 minutes. The attack was followed by the threat of a more powerful and sustained attack unless a ransom was paid in bitcoin.
That attack was stopped.
Now, detectives from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office are actively investigating cases of ransomware and are working with state and federal cyber security professionals to share information on these attacks.
Regular people also can prevent attacks by updating their computers with every “patch” that becomes available. The prosecutor also warned residents not to open any unknown links or files in emails, to back up data, and to keep antivirus software active and up to date.
“Our area isn’t the only one threatened by this,” Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Al Della Fave said. “The bottom line is each and every system is only as good as the firewall.”