MINNEAPOLIS – Cyber-attacks against Americans have hit an all-time high over the past two years, according to Checkpoint Software research. The Office of Government Accountability says the U.S. lacks adequate cybercrime data and monitoring, leaving the country less prepared to fight cybercrime.
Cyber criminals target education and research sectors the most because of their sensitive information and lack of adequate cyber security. Checkpoint Software Global Chief Information (CISO) Officer Pete Nicoletti says there was an increase in attacks on government and military in the 4th quarter of 2023.
“I think it’s because of the ongoing conflicts that we’re seeing. The two wars that the world is involved in,” Nicoletti said.
The Israel-Hamas war and the Russia-Ukraine war seem far away from Steele County, Minnesota. But Steele County Director of Information Technology Dave Purscell says our screens bring the war home.
“We’re at war, and literally against other countries that are attempting to do damage here,” Purscell said. “We see a lot of activity against our firewalls that comes in from, you know, the big four, that’d be in Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.”
Purscell says cyber criminals target local governments because, “we have a lot of really important sensitive information. And the theory behind it is that we’re not going to have the level of protection and security that a large organization like the federal or state government would have.”
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal of 2021 designates $1 billion for states and territories over the next 4 years. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency says states have to apply through the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program. Only South Dakota has not applied and received funds.
In Minnesota, the federal government has allocated $18 million in federal funds and $5.5 million in state matched funds from the Minnesota legislature. At least 80% of that has to go to local governments and at least 25% to rural communities.
CISO John Israel leads Minnesota IT Services executive branch cybersecurity teams and the Minnesota Cybersecurity Task Force. Israel says not every local government has adequate security measures. In September, the agency launched the Whole of State Cybersecurity Plan to provide and expand cybersecurity outreach to local governments statewide.
“Government entities, no matter how large or how small, collect and store manage a lot of data around presidents, about the people that they serve,” Israel said. “Not only are they holding the data, ransom and hostage for payment, they’re also trying to sell it on the black market.”
With 3,500 entities like school districts, local governments and tribal nations in Minnesota, Israel says the money goes fast.
Checkpoint software says attempted ransomware attacks on organizations rose 33% worldwide last year. About 1 in 20 organizations in the US fell victim to attempted ransomware attacks last year. On average, a business experiences over 1,158 cyberattacks a week.
“The criminal enterprise is actually growing in size. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. Some people think it’s the third largest economy in the world after U.S. and China, the cybercriminal environment,” Nicoletti said.
It’s not just the quantity of the cyberattacks that are increasing, but the quality. Nicoletti said the use of artificial intelligence has made phishing scams coming through email harder to spot.