New Orleans reports cyberattacks after other attacks in Louisiana

In this Sept. 22, 2017 file photo, New Orleans mayoral candidate LaToya Cantrell listens to donors at the home of Robert Ripley in New Orleans.

Sophia Germer | The Advocate via AP

A series of widespread cyberattacks across Louisiana, which led to two statewide emergency declarations this year, have made their way to New Orleans, the state’s largest city and home to one of the country’s biggest ports.

The “NOLA Ready” emergency alert Twitter account for New Orleans, most often associated with hurricane preparedness, posted five messages on Friday, warning of “suspicious activity” on city networks and later informing residents that the city had “activated its Emergency Operations Center.”

One of the tweets said the city is working with “cybersecurity resources” from the FBI, Secret Service and National Guard. The city said emergency services like 911 and the fire department were still up and running, and didn’t specify any agencies that had been shut down.

The attacks follow outages experienced elsewhere in the state in November and July, which resulted from ransomware attacks that crippled phones and encrypted data at school districts and the governor’s office as well the Medicare system and Department of Motor Vehicles, among other agencies. Twice this year Governor John Bel Edwards has had to declare a state of emergency.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the new series of attacks, which have not yet been confirmed as ransomware, were affecting city services. An announcement at City Hall on Friday told workers, including those at the police department, to unplug computers, according to the report. A spokesman for the office of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell told the newspaper that the attack started after 11 a.m.

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Cybercriminals have been targeting state and local governments with ransomware tools, which infect an organization’s computer networks and lock up critical files in exchange for a ransom payment. In the past year, Atlanta, Baltimore and several cities in Florida are among those that have been hit. A spate of ransomware attacks hit 23 Texas towns in a coordinated fashion in August.

Local governments often must make a snap decision on whether to pay the ransom or face a clean-up effort and worker downtime that may be far costlier than the initial ransom request.

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