Cybersecurity isn't an issue confined to consumers or business owners. In one fell swoop, entire cities can be crippled electronically by unsuspecting online users clicking on something they shouldn't.

This is precisely what Atlanta is experiencing after a devastating ransomware attack that has resulted in headaches and hassle for hordes of people.

"The SamSam virus hit Atlanta on March 22."

As reported by multiple sources, city services were stymied on March 22 when a ransomware strain – dubbed SamSam – hit Atlanta's servers. Numerous public officials were locked out of their laptops and handheld devices. Even run-of-the-mill services – like parking meters – were rendered effectively useless. Financial documents for government workers were also hit, preventing some individuals from accessing them.

"Everything on my hard drive is gone," Amanda Noble, Atlanta city auditor, told Reuters.

Noble noted she knew something was wrong right away when she showed up for work March 22, only to discover upon launching her personal computer that it had been hacked.

How ransomware works
While there are many strategies cybercriminals use to gain access to private data, ransomware is increasingly popular because of its reach and capacity to cause maximum harm. A type of malware, ransomware produces a screen or image when a computer or server is hit, with verbiage telling the user their software has been compromised and their data encrypted. The only way they can get it back is by paying a dollar amount that the hacker establishes. Security experts note while the monetary demands can be substantial, they're usually not astronomic, as their end game is victims actually coming up with the money. However, even if those affected have the means, there's no guarantee hackers will release the data once payment is made.

"It's extraordinarily frustrating," Atlanta councilman Howard Shook told Reuters. Shook noted the SamSam worm led to the losses of 16 years' worth of digital data.

While businesses and consumers have been the main targets, cities and towns are increasingly in hackers' crosshairs. Last year, Yarrow Point, Washington was hit with a ransomware strain. As noted by StateScoop.com, the mayor wound up paying to get the stolen data back, to the tune of $10,000. Purveyors of the SamSam virus demanded $51,000, according to The New York Times.

"Ransomware attacks rose sharply in 2017."

6 in 10 say they've never heard of ransomware
Although ransomware attacks are increasingly prevalent, they're not something that many people have heard about. In a survey conducted by Acronis, 60 percent were not familiar with the term, despite its fallout expected to lead to $11 billion in worldwide losses in 2019. Additionally, forms of ransomware, or variants, rose 46 percent in 2017.

"When it comes to a ransomware attack, prevention is the most effective defense," warned Eric O'Neill, counterintelligence operative who used to work for the FBI. "No business or person is safe. An effective data protection strategy, which includes regularly backing up data and training employees, can go a long way in keeping your data out of the hands of cybercriminals."

Ransomware is an equal opportunity offender, immobilizing servers, mobile devices and even credit card payment processors. 911 Software has the services you need to keep your business – and your customers' financial data – protected.