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Cyber attacks on government agencies becoming more common, experts say

Published: Sep. 4, 2019 at 7:08 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Jeff Moulton says the number of cyber attacks executed everyday is simply too high for his powerful research computers at LSU to count.

“It happens all the time,” Moulton, executive director of the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training at LSU, said. “All across the world, everyday. Every second of every day.”

But contrary to popular belief, there aren’t many “bad guys” sitting behind computer screens in dark rooms, tapping away at keyboards in order to steal your data, Moulton says.

“It’s automatic. Anybody that knows how to hit the enter button can launch an attack on people," he said.

In Louisiana, criminals have repeatedly tried to hold local school districts’ data hostage using ransomware. The hackers hope to use that stolen data to extort money from people or agencies.

Governor John Bel Edwards recently declared a statewide cyber-emergency and activated certain state resources to combat the attacks.

Other states have fallen victim and paid the ransom, but Louisiana did not negotiate with the hackers or pay any money. Instead, it wiped its hard drives and started over. It was an inconvenience, Moulton said, not a defeat.

But Wednesday’s attack on the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office website is particularly concerning, Moulton says. Hackers claiming to be from Iran redirected the website’s home page to an unsettling image of a Guy Fawkes mask and the Iranian flag. Because it was not a ransomware-style attack, it’s unclear why the hackers were interested in the website.

“With a redirection attack, you really don’t know the motivation behind the attack," he said. "Are they setting you up for some fall later down the road?”

EBRSO is investigating the incident, though it says its data is secure. The website is now running as intended.

The good news, though, is Louisiana ranks among the global leaders in cyber security and technology. In addition to the Stephenson center on LSU’s campus, Louisiana has partnered with a number of security firms, including some in Israel.

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Some of the technology produced and researched on LSU’s campus will help protect data as cyber attacks become more common.

Moulton likens the cyber problem to the flu: it’s not curable, but is typically preventable. Moulton says users need to practice good “cyber hygiene" by carefully assessing links before they click them, watching what their children do online, and making frequent credit report checks.

Moulton recommends checking children’s credit reports as well to see if their data has been compromised.

“Stop. Think. Click,” he stressed. “I say it all the time."

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