ATLANTA: Massive Ransomware Attack Has Officials Filling Out Forms by Hand

For years, people have been warning about the dangers of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), and what might happen if one was detonated somewhere over the continental U.S., knocking out the power grid and sending the country into chaos as tech and electronic systems began to fail en masse.

Well the city of Atlanta has just been the victim of an attack that might provide some insight — although not nearly as disastrous as an EMP would be —  into what a system failure might look like as they struggle back from a ransomware attack, where computer users were denied access to their systems until a ransom of $51,000 was paid that, six days later, still has some city officials filling out forms by hand.

Residents can’t pay their water bill or their parking tickets. Police and other employees are having to write out their reports by hand. And court proceedings for people who are not in police custody are canceled until computer systems are functioning properly again.

More than six days after a ransomware attack shut down the city of Atlanta’s online systems, officials here are still struggling to keep the government running without many of their digital processes and services.
The city said on Twitter that all court dates set for Wednesday will be rescheduled and all applications for jobs with the city are suspended until further notice.
While city officials and employees are being fairly mum about the specifics of the attack while it’s being investigated by a firm of cyberspecialists, the city is still trying to get their bureaucratic systems back online. Or, as the Atlantic noted in their piece, the “boring” stuff.

In a statement, Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, assured citizens that utility and safety systems, like police and water, are unaffected. She also noted, “This is a massive inconvenience to the city.”

Tell me about it. This is the new, humdrum reality of information-security breaches. When they don’t leak reams of personal information for theft and resale on the black market, they make ordinary life annoying in small but important ways.

It’s true the cyberattack in Atlanta seems to have been most destructive to the writing hands of city employees, as CNN notes in their coverage.

“We have teams that are going to every single department,” Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Richard Cox said Monday. “We’re mapping out the manual processes so that we position ourselves to take care of the city and keep it running if this is to go into the future.”
In other words, some city officials are filling out forms by hand. Asked how long such a process is sustainable, Bottoms cracked a joke.
“Well, it was a sustainable model until we got computer systems, so … for some of our younger employees, it will be a nice exercise in good penmanship.”
However, the length of time it’s taken to being systems back up and the number of systems and processes affected should serve as a warning that when hackers decide to infect a city, they can spread their destruction around. Which could be much more than an inconvenience should they decide to attack something a little more critical than the “boring” bureaucratic stuff.