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The Rising Threat: Cyber-Attacks Targeting Canadian Cities and Towns

Stop Cyber Attack Sign in Red Polygon on Pale Bare Hand. Isolated on White Background.The Town of Huntsville announced on March 11, 2024, that they had suffered a cyber breach. While municipal offices are open, they have requested that the public call ahead to confirm whether their request can be serviced.

The City of Hamilton suffered a ransomware attack on February 25 and is still dealing with the fallout. As of March 12, 2024, unions representing Hamilton paramedics, police officers and firefighters have not received their overtime pay, and their union has advised them to refuse overtime until the city fixes the problem. There is still no timeline for when services will be restored.

This isn't the first time a Canadian municipality has experienced a cybersecurity breach. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security is aware of over 100 cases of cyber threat activity targeting Canadian municipalities since the beginning of 2020. These attacks on municipal governments can lead to the release of residents’ personal information, service delays, and loss of trust. It is no longer a question of if your municipality will be attacked, but rather when.

So, why are Canadian municipalities facing so many cyber-attacks? How should municipalities address these growing threats?

Canada has an evolving and sophisticated cyber threat landscape, like many other countries. Cybercriminals are continuously developing new tactics, techniques, and procedures to exploit vulnerabilities in digital infrastructure, including those of municipalities. The Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, in its 2023/2024 National Threat Assessment, mentions that “The state-sponsored cyber programs of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea continue to pose the greatest strategic cyber threat to Canada. Critical infrastructure is still a prime target for cybercriminals and state-sponsored actors alike.”

Municipal systems and networks are crucial in delivering essential services such as transportation, utility services, and emergency response. Therefore, they become popular targets. The interconnectivity of these systems creates opportunities for cyber attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in one area to infiltrate and disrupt other critical services.

At the same time, Canadian municipalities are increasingly embracing digital transformation initiatives to enhance efficiency, improve service delivery, and better engage with citizens. This digitization also expands the attack surface and introduces new cyber risks if adequate security measures are not implemented. The wealth of sensitive information they possess, such as citizen data, financial records, and infrastructure details makes municipalities lucrative targets for ransomware attacks, data theft, or disruption of essential services.

These attacks can cause financial losses, disruption to public services, and even reputational damage. Cybersecurity must be a priority for municipalities in Canada to remain resilient and secure.

Some key priorities include:

  • Cybersecurity strategies, including regular audits, security training, and the implementation of strong encryption.
  • Investing in the latest technologies and software to ensure that their systems are protected and that any potential attacks are quickly identified and addressed.
  • Partnering with experts in the cybersecurity field to ensure that their systems are continuously updated and monitored.

Addressing the cybersecurity challenges Canadian municipalities face requires a holistic approach involving investment in cybersecurity resources, collaboration between government agencies and private sector partners, enhanced cybersecurity education and awareness initiatives, and implementation of robust cybersecurity policies and practices. By prioritizing cybersecurity and adopting proactive measures, Canadian municipalities can better defend against cyber threats and safeguard critical infrastructure and services. Ultimately, this will ensure that Canadian cities remain resilient in the face of cyber-attacks and maintain the safety of their digital infrastructure.

It is time for Canadian municipalities to take cybersecurity seriously and prioritize the protection of their digital infrastructure. We urge all municipalities to invest in cybersecurity resources, partner with experts in the cybersecurity field, and implement robust cybersecurity policies and practices. Choose Quick Intelligence to help you defend against cyber threats and safeguard critical infrastructure and services. Let's work together to ensure the safety and security of our digital infrastructure.

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Topics: Ransomware Phishing cyber security Breach Malware Digital Transformation Cyber Awareness