At the end of March, Boeing’s production factory in Charlestown, South Carolina was hit by the infamous WannaCry ransomware, which entirely locks down and encrypts a computer and demands the user pay a ransom to make the computer usable again. Boeing has declared that the attack didn’t cause very much damage, but earlier in the day the factory had been in a panic; the chief engineer at the factory, Mike VanderWel, put out a memo that called for “all hands on deck.”
A private company like Boeing might have been able to isolate and stop the problem quickly, but public institutions haven’t been so lucky. Just a few weeks ago the city of Atlanta had their offices attacked with similar ransomware targeting software used by residents to pay bills and check on their court dates. Recently, the city of Baltimore had its 911 dispatch system taken offline. In 2017 there were dozens of schools that reported full-scale ransomware attacks. Before these attacks became weekly occurrences, the British National Health Services (NHS) was hit so badly that thousands of medical appointments were canceled, surgeries were unable to be performed and hospitals had to redirect ambulances elsewhere.
With thousands of ransomware attacks now occurring every year, institutions like hospitals, municipal systems and schools are constantly under attack — schools, in particular, are three times more likely to get attacked than healthcare-related buildings and ten times more likely than financial institutions. These attacks are frequently devastating, and it can’t be lost on the hackers that they are going after some of the most vulnerable sectors of American society. The United States, of course, isn’t known for taking care of its physical infrastructure, and there’s barely a glimmer of hope for substantial reform on the horizon.
One would hope that a country known for Silicon Valley and tech startups would have digital infrastructure that is up to par, perhaps even advanced. Sadly, this is not the case, and the United States continues to have terrible internet almost everywhere, and that’s before the impending gutting of Net Neutrality.
So what can be done in the face of such numerous and increasingly complex cyber-attacks on our most vulnerable networks? The pessimistic answer would be not much; a 2016 report shows that 69 percent of the population can’t search for a specific email in their inbox. With such rampant technological illiteracy, it’s no wonder people are opening emails that can bring down an entire hospital.
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