Midland, Wasaga Beach Hit by Cyber Attacks

By Ben Hamill - September 21 2018

Two small towns in Ontario, Wasaga Beach and Midland, have paid over hefty ransoms in order to retrieve data after their computer systems were hacked by computer criminals. According to town officials in Midland, they paid the ransom to reclaim information lost after hackers held their online systems hostage for 48 hours. The officials are now reportedly working to get their servers up and running once more, after anonymous hackers took control of the town’s encrypted keys on September 1. Midland Mayor Gord McKay explained that at the point where his team confronted the situation, they realized that their systems could be gone for weeks. The only way around it, in his mind, was to pay the criminals their ransom and continue to provide the services that town citizens absolutely need.

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No Taxpayer Dollars Involved

The town has not disclosed the amount of the ransom, but McKay did say that Midland made the decision to take extra precaution by isolating its systems in April this year, after Wasaga Beach also suffered a similar attack. He added that the town’s insurance policy paid the hackers, bringing peace of mind to those who thought that the move was funded by their tax dollars. Back on April 30, nearby Wasaga Beach had its computer systems hacked as well. The compromise shut down its software and back-up systems for no less than seven weeks, causing pandemonium in the small Canadian town. The town eventually paid over a $35,000 ransom to the cyber-attackers for decryption codes to allow it to recover its lost data. However, the total cost of the ordeal, including overtime, consultants and loss of productivity, saw taxpayers cough up a collective $250,000 to cover the damage. 

Physical Data Backup is Essential

According to David Skillicorn, Professor in the School of Computing at Queen's University, the best defense for these kinds of issues is to simply have good backups. He added in an interview on CBC that files should always be backed up elsewhere, and not just on the system. This, he said, is routine, and should be done by everyone to prevent similar disasters from striking again. Skillicorn also added that training town employees is crucial so that they know not to click on suspicious links in emails – as that is how ransomware enters the system. He noted that cyber ware attacks are becoming quite a common occurrence, but that unfortunately, virus-containing emails are growing increasingly more sophisticated, making attacks harder to avoid.

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