This weekend, state and local websites displayed a pro-ISIS message due to a hack that is being claimed by a group called Team System DZ.
The hacked sites of Howard County, Md., Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and other local governments temporarily read: “You will be held accountable Trump, you and all your people for every drop of blood flowing in Muslim countries”; and “I love Islamic State.”
According to the Howard County Government Facebook page, no personal data was stolen from their site during the hack.
“I appreciate the patience of the public in the hours after an outside individual gained unauthorized access to the Howard County Government website. I want to reassure the public that NO DATA or PERSONAL INFORMATION WAS COMPROMISED. This website is on a public network hosted by a third party contractor and is completely separate from the Howard County Government network,” posted Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman.
“I am grateful for the quick response of the county’s IT staff who took the website offline Sunday afternoon, worked overnight to ensure that no information had been compromised and restored it Monday morning. Howard County was among a number of sites across the country that were subject to this type of cyber intrusion. We will be working with our service providers and relying on our investigation to determine whether there are any additional steps to be taken. Howard County Government is cooperating with federal law enforcement agencies and will have no additional comment while the investigation is underway.”
Ohio Department of Administrative Services chief communications officer Tom Hoyt also released a statement on the hack: “State of Ohio IT staff are working to restore the computer systems that were impacted today. All affected servers have been taken off line and we are investigating how these hackers were able to deface these websites. We also are working with law enforcement to better understand what happened.”
Team System DZ continues to post links to reportedly hacked sites on their Facebook page.
According to RSA Public Sector CTO Steve Schmalz, though the likely motivation of this hack was to spread propaganda, and “to make us feel vulnerable,” there is potential for greater damage to be done in a future hack using similar tools.
“Obviously if they deface a public-facing website, it’s a small step to change details on that website,” said Schmalz, adding that those details could be used for spreading false information or changing public opinion.
“Political opponents, disgruntled constituents, state actors–the list goes on and on–will use the means at hand to spread their message, disparage their ‘opponent,’ or both,” said Akamai’s Public Sector Vice President Tom Ruff. “As long as they have the capability, they will try to use attacks like Web defacement to make themselves heard. Threat vectors and level of sophistication of attacks will only increase.”
According to Ruff, communication is key in both preparing for these kinds of attacks and recovering from them if and when they occur.
“Having a plan that covers who gets called (internally and externally–i.e.: vendors), who’s responsible for communication to the public, and how to explain to the higher ups in management is something that should be thought through ahead of time, rather than being dealt with during an emergency,” said Ruff. “After the attack has happened and been dealt with, it’s vital to perform a ‘lessons learned’ session so that the holes attackers used can be closed and other weaknesses in the response process can be addressed. There is no single technological solution to this type of compromise, therefore each organization has to understand where their vulnerabilities are and address them.”
Schmalz said that in the long term state and local governments need to invest in the threat monitoring infrastructure and personnel to act as a “beat cop on the street” that searches out potential vulnerabilities and oncoming attacks. However, such investments can be costly for small state and local governments.
“It’s an expensive proposition,” said Schmalz. “I think it’ll take a national effort.”