Cyber Threats to Parks and Rec
Your city being held for ransom isn’t the worst-case scenario; what happens after may be the worst case scenario.
So much attention has been paid to “election hacking” and the like in recent years, analysts and commentators have effectively forgotten an equally if not more pressing threat to American government at all levels: ransomware. We cannot fix the reading comprehension problems and poor critical thinking skills of more than half the nation’s population in a meaningful time-frame, but we can make serious progress against those who would make us digital hostages.
Ask the average citizen in your town what they think of when they hear the words “cyberattack” and they’re probably going to talk about the virus of the month, compromises at banks or stores they patronize, and maybe “hacking the election,” which is usually a conflation of them hearing about horrible vulnerabilities in voting systems and foreign influence campaigns waged against the voting populace.
If you live in Atlanta, Baltimore, (and now several cities in Texas) or any of the dozens of other municipalities that have been held hostage by ransomware, you may get lucky and find someone who has been impacted by these and a more nefarious attack: ransomware. Shutting down large swaths of or the entirety of a city government doesn’t seem like an issue on par with tampering with the election for President of the United States, but I would argue that it could be worse.
The President may be the most powerful man in the free world, but he operates in a system of checks and balances. To the extent that executive orders can force unpopular policy decisions into reality on a limited basis, the fact of the matter is that the policy pendulum (different from the hyperbole around policy decisions, which can flail like a Whirling Dervish) rarely swings too far in either direction because there is value in internal peace and stability. Every political party and operative, no matter how partisan they seem, understands this.
When you shut down a government with ransomware, all branches of government are still equal: equally useless. A sufficiently effective and widespread ransomware infection in the federal government or Anytown USA means you can’t register your car, you can’t file taxes, you can’t travel internationally (or come home), you can’t record a deed to property you bought, if that property catches fire…