Texas cities, towns slammed by costly cyberattack

At least 23 Texas towns suffered a “coordinated” ransomware attack, according to the state’s Department of Information Resources.

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Attacks started Friday morning around Texas in what the department described as the “majority of these entities [being] smaller local governments.”

Ransomware, or malicious software, often delivered via email, is designed to lock an owner’s operating system until a ransom is paid or files are recovered by other means.

Recent attacks in New York, Louisiana, Maryland and Florida cost states and towns well into the millions of dollars as criminals demanded ransoms or victims paid off damages. Baltimore estimated the ransomware attack cost $18.2 million, as the city begins to restore.

At this time, Texas officials have not divulged payment or repairs costs. According to experts, the malware corrupts computer hardware and potentially equipment, leaving systems offline, which is costly to communities.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a Level 2 “Escalated Response” on Friday in the fallout, Deputy Press Secretary Nan Tolson told FOX Business.

According to the state emergency management planning guide, the responses are determined by the state’s Department of Emergency Management and is part of a four-step response protocol. Currently, the situation is one step below the highest level of alert -- a Level 1 “emergency.”

Tolson said the Texas Department of Information Resources is leading the response and is working collaboratively with several groups to address the damages.

“Governor Abbott is also deploying cybersecurity experts to affected areas in order to assess damage and [to] help bring local government entities back online,” Tolson said.

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Various federal and state agencies are supporting Texas in the wake of the attack including FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, Texas A&M’s Information Technology and Electronic Crime Unit and the Texas Military Department, which includes branches of the National Guard.

Several massive company-based cybersecurity breaches this year hit shareholders and consumers hard. According to IBM’s 2019 “Cost of a Data Breach” report, the average data breach exposes 25,575 sensitive consumer records and carries a total cost of $3.92 million. The study says “mega breaches” of more than 50 million records, like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, cost $388 million the company in 2019.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.