Data Breach

After phishing attack, Cobb County beefs up cyber defense

After a phishing attack in early June, Cobb County officials state that they will beef up cyber security. Attackers are growing increasingly sophisticated and, while technical tools are important, Cobb County is determined to improve security by expanding their security team. The district intends to triple the size of the existing department.

“The threats are becoming more sophisticated and put the county at-risk everyday”, says Kimberly Lemley, Information Services Director for Cobb County. Lemley points out that cyber attacks can occur unexpectedly, and the county needs to defend against threats.

“It is very clear additional software is no longer enough to protect the county’s network, assets and critical infrastructure,” she stated.

Cobb County improves security

A sophisticated phishing attack hit systems. Employees experienced “an unbelievable” number of phishing attempts. These phishing emails reportedly impersonated the organization’s human resources department. They “looked like an official HR thing,” stated county spokesperson, Ross Cavitt.

Eventually, cyber criminals gained access to the organization’s email client. Fraudulent, attacker-generated emails were then disseminated to saved email addresses within the email client platform.

“They were able to send out a bunch of emails from a Cobb County address telling people ‘we have all this federal stimulus money for COVID, click here to claim your check’,” said Cavitt.

Via social media, the county warned people that the federal stimulus money emails were a scam. Officials report that no one actually fell for the emails.

As the attack developed and worsened, the existing security team attempted to fend off the hackers and resolve the email issues simultaneously.

“Our folks had to work 24/7 to monitor it. They took our email system down, those with remote access who get email on our phones, that was disconnected,” stated Cavitt. Cobb County is now making security changes.

Security team expansion

The folks working on the defense and remediation consisted of two cyber security professionals. Given the recent, high-profile attacks on organizations such as Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods and CVS, county leaders decided to add cyber security personnel.

Presently, a policy exists that prohibits county leaders from adding new county positions. However, following the phishing attack, leaders made an exception. The positions will be filled by September.

Beef up, not good enough?

In order to access systems, phishers targeted hundreds of Cobb County employees. The hackers obtained system access briefly after several employees mistakenly opened the malicious emails.

The Cobb County government was not the only group targeted by a recent wave of phishing attacks. Other groups reported experiencing the same phishing scam.

Authorities are working to investigate the incident. The threat actors behind the attack remain unknown at this time.

“These threats are becoming more and more sophisticated and put our county more at risk every day,” stated Lemley.

The county had already begun to implement an increasing number of cyber defense measures ahead of the attack. The incident reinforced the importance of beefing up security. But will new measures be enough?

Worried about phishing?

  • Get answers to common phishing questions, here.
  • Discover a never-before-seen phishing threat, here.
  • Get Cyber Talk’s phishing prevention tips, here.

For more on how Cobb County will beef up security, visit Fox.

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