In the spring of 2018, cybercriminals compromised several computer networks within Atlanta’s City Hall to launch a ransomware attack. From there, the cybercriminals restricted access to a wide range of online platforms, municipal operations and databases—requiring a significant ransom to be paid in exchange for restoration. Nevertheless, the city of Atlanta refused to reward the cybercriminals and did not pay the ransom. As a result, the city of Atlanta ransomware attack took several months to recover from, disrupting various government services for extended periods and costing millions of dollars in damage.

This incident has become known as one of the costliest cyberattacks to impact a local government, thus demonstrating the severity of ransomware threats. Upon reflection, there are a variety of cybersecurity lessons that organizations can learn by reviewing the details of this incident, its impact and the mistakes the city of Atlanta made along the way. Here’s what your organization needs to know.

The Details of the City of Atlanta Ransomware Attack

On March 22, 2018, cybercriminals utilized brute-force techniques to access several networks connected to Atlanta’s City Hall. Using these techniques means that—rather than manipulating employees into exposing their network credentials for such access— the cybercriminals leveraged algorithmic password-cracking tactics in order to secure credentials. After obtaining access to government networks, the cybercriminals launched their attack using a customized form of malicious software known as SamSam ransomware.City of Atlanta Ransomware

The attack compromised critical technology and information across Atlanta, interrupting key municipal functions within several city departments. In particular, the incident disrupted online payment programs for various services (e.g., utilities, traffic tickets and business licenses or renewals) and a multitude of law enforcement operations, including warrant issuances, inmate processing protocols and court fee payments. Further, the Atlanta Police Department lost access to practically all of its archived in-vehicle video footage and even had to temporarily resort to writing incident reports by hand.

As part of the ransomware attack, the cyber-criminals demanded the payment of over $50,000 in bitcoin before restoring any technology or information for the Atlanta government. However, the city refused to comply with the cybercriminals’ demands; government officials did not want to reward the cybercriminals’ behavior with payment, nor were they convinced that such a payment would result in restoration.

By not paying the ransom, the city was forced to recover from the attack on their own accord in the coming days, weeks and months. It took five days for the Atlanta government to regain access to critical technology. To prevent further cyber-related damages, the city kept the Wi-Fi at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport disabled for 10 days following the incident until April 2. The government wasn’t able to restore its online payment programs until May, while local law enforcement couldn’t fully resume digital operations until June.

The Impact of the City of Atlanta Ransomware Attack

Following this large-scale ransomware attack, the Atlanta government encountered many consequences, including the following:

Disruption concerns
First, the incident interrupted many key functions within the Atlanta government, especially payment platforms and law enforcement services. Although the city was fortunate enough to maintain control of emergency response operations (e.g., 911 dispatch) and essential community offerings (e.g., water and electricity) throughout the attack, the disrupted municipal services still caused issues for both government employees and Atlanta residents. What’s worse, many of these interruptions continued for extended periods as the city recovered from the incident, thus compounding concerns. While the Atlanta government made the right decision in not paying the ransom during this attack, it’s important to note that doing so can often lead to a prolonged incident recovery process.

Recovery expenses
Next, the costs associated with recovering from the attack were severe. In total, the incident is estimated to have cost both the city and its taxpayers nearly $17 million. Breaking down these recovery expenses, the Atlanta government spent approximately $6 million in its initial response to the attack. This amount includes developing emergency contracts for assistance with recovering compromised technology; hiring a forensics team to investigate the incident further; consulting crisis communications specialists; and implementing necessary security upgrades. The remaining $11 million was spent repairing or replacing damaged government systems and technology, including desktops, laptops and smart devices. Additionally, certain information across law enforcement databases was permanently destroyed during the attack, representing an irreparable loss.

Reputational damage
Lastly, the Atlanta government faced wide-spread scrutiny for its outdated cyber- infrastructure after the incident. Some IT experts blamed the city’s security failures for contributing to the severity of the attack. In fact, an audit performed just two months prior to the incident stated that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 total vulnerabilities identified within the Atlanta government’s digital operations and technologysuggesting the city had become complacent regarding cybersecurity.

Lessons Learned from the City of Atlanta Ransomware Attack

There are several cybersecurity takeaways from the City of Atlanta ransomware attack. Specifically, the incident emphasized these important lessons:

Effective access controls are critical. Because this incident originally stemmed from brute-force methods, understanding how to defend against such tactics is crucial. Specifically, if the Atlanta government had had more stringent employee access controls in place when the attack occurred, the cybercriminals may have been stopped before they could infiltrate government networks and launch the ransomware. After all, it’s much harder for cybercriminals to crack passwords and obtain access to networks when employees’ credentials come with strict security protocols. Valuable access control tactics include the following:

  • Instructing employees to develop complicated and unique passwords for their accounts in addition to changing these passwords on a routine schedule
  • Implementing multifactor authentication measures that require employees to verify their identities in several ways (e.g., entering a password and answering a security question)
  • Limiting employees’ digital access solely to the technology, networks and data they need to perform their job responsibilities
  • Segmenting different workplace networks to prevent all networks from being compromised if a single employee’s credentials are exploited

Security software is worth it.
In addition to proper access controls, a wide range of security software could have helped the Atlanta government detect, mitigate and potentially prevent this attack. Although this software may seem like an expensive investment, it’s well worth it to avoid devastating cyber incidents. Essential security software to consider includes network monitoring systems, data backup and encryption services, antivirus programs, endpoint detection products and patch management tools. This software should be utilized on all workplace technology and updated regularly.

Cyber incident response plans are necessary.
If the city had been prepared to respond to this incident, the recovery process likely could have been much faster and, subsequently, far less expensive than it was. Instead, the Atlanta government took several months to fully recover from this incident, ultimately increasing disruption concerns and compounding the overall costs of the attack. Such extended recovery issues emphasize how essential it is to have an effective cyber incident response plan in place. This type of plan can help an organization establish timely response protocols for remaining operational and mitigating losses in the event of a cyber event. A successful incident response plan should outline potential cyberattack scenarios, methods for maintaining key functions during these scenarios and the individuals responsible for doing so. It should be routinely reviewed through various activities—such as penetration testing and tabletop exercises—to ensure effectiveness and identify ongoing security gaps. Based on the results from these activities, the plan should be adjusted as needed.

Proper coverage can offer vital protection.
Finally, this attack made it clear that no organization—not even a local government—is immune to cyberattacks and subsequent losses. What’s more, these events are increasing in both cost and frequency. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure adequate protection against cyber-related losses by securing proper coverage. Make sure your organization works with a trusted insurance professional when navigating these coverage decisions.

We can help.

In the unfortunate event that your business falls victim to a cyber attack, of any type, we can help you recover.

Cyber & Data Breach Liability coverages are developing on a daily basis as new threats emerge and new insurance companies enter the market.

Regardless of the type of business, one thing is certain, if you’re a business in operation today, you face cyber risks. Which means, you need to thoroughly understand your risk of a loss, how you would respond if a loss did occur, and whether Cyber & Data Breach Liability coverage makes sense for you.

The level of coverage your business needs is based on your individual operations and can vary depending on your range of exposure. It’s important to work with an Insurance Advisor that can identify your areas of risk, and customize a policy to fit your unique situation.

If you’d like additional information and resources, we’re here to help you analyze your needs and make the right coverage decisions to protect your operations from unnecessary risk. You can download a free copy of our eBook, or if you’re ready make Cyber Liability Insurance a part of your insurance portfolio, Request a Proposal and we’ll get to work for you.

Tom Simon

Tom Simon

Chairman of the Board

Tom has worked in the insurance industry since 1977 holding numerous positions from Account Executive and Agency Manager, President to his current role. He combines his unique ability of thinking differently with his wealth of insurance and business experience to propel CoverLink to new levels of success.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, especially his grandkids. In addition, he’s also an avid woodsman… yes, you read that correctly. He can often be found yelling “timber” or just splitting firewood for family and friends.

 

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Matt Simon

President

Prior to joining the team at CoverLink in 2006, Matt worked as an Underwriter with a multi-state insurance company located in Columbus, Ohio. Matt is a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter (CPCU), having successfully completed the rigorous coursework and exams to earn these designations.

He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Insurance Agents Association and the Associated Risk Managers of Ohio, in addition to volunteering his time to multiple other community and industry organizations.

In 2013, Matt was awarded and recognized as the National Young Insurance Agent of the Year, and in 2019 he was recognized as the Insurance Advisor of the year by Finance Monthly.

 

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Gina Loehr

Gina Loehr

Senior Account Manager

Gina oversees the Commercial Lines division at CoverLink, which is responsible for managing the business insurance needs for clients.

She has worked in the insurance industry since 1980, beginning as a Commercial Underwriter with a regional company located in Springfield, Ohio.

In 1984, she earned her Certificate in General Insurance, and in 1995, her Accredited Advisor of Insurance designation.

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, including four grandkids, and biking.

 

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Kyle Carper

Account Manager

Kyle joined the CoverLink team in 2018 as in intern when he was a junior in high school. Shortly after, he began studying to obtain his insurance license, which he passed in 2020 and joined our Personal Lines division.

Kyle helps individuals and families with their home, auto, umbrella and other personal insurance needs, which he thoroughly enjoys.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with the ones he loves, watching sports and playing video games.

 

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Tim O’Rielley

Senior Insurance Advisor

Tim works with individuals, families and businesses to design insurance policies perfectly suited to their specific needs.

He has been working in the insurance industry, and with CoverLink, since 1993. As a lifelong resident of Logan County, he’s been involved with a number of community organizations, often taking the leadership role such as President of the Chamber of Commerce, and the United Way.

He’s often found spending as much time as possible with his two daughters, and his grandkids

 

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Mark Osborne

Account Executive

Mark has worked at CoverLink since 2004. He specializes in life and health insurance, where he utilizes his extensive knowledge to help clients make sense of a confusing and ever changing market.

He also holds the Property & Casualty Insurance License, and often helps families as well as small businesses to set up their insurance protection plan.

Mark graciously volunteers his time to several community organizations, and enjoys spending his free time with his family

 

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Leah Loehr

Account Manager

Leah joined the Commercial Lines division at CoverLink in 2012 where she works closely with business owners on their Commercial Insurance needs to help them achieve their desired level of protection.

Leah is known for her outgoing personality, positive attitude, and relentless pursuit of the goals she sets out to achieve. Clients often rave about her and the service she provides.

In her spare time, Leah enjoys spending time with her family and friends… and she can often be found at the closest Buffalo Wild Wings!

 

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Larry Middaugh

Larry Middaugh, PLCS

Senior Insurance Advisor

Larry joined CoverLink with an extensive background in sales, bringing over 30 years of experience and commitment to taking care of his clients in the banking and mortgage industry.

Larry’s dedication to his clients aligned so well with the CoverLink tradition of relentlessly caring for, and protecting its clients, that he joined the team of Licensed Insurance Advisors in 2015.

Those in need of Personal or Business Insurance are delighted after working with Larry.

Larry defines success as knowing his purpose in life, continuing to grow to reach his fullest potential and sowing seeds that benefit others. He’s a father of three incredible children and husband to an amazing, kind and loving wife.

 

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Tony Fink

Tony Fink, CIC, CLCS

Insurance Advisor

Tony is responsible for serving the needs of individuals and businesses looking for property & casualty insurance. In addition, he’s licensed and capable of advising clients that desire life insurance protection.

He’s a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and a Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist (CLCS), having successfully completed the rigorous coursework and exams to earn these designations.

Tony entered the insurance industry in 2008 bringing a diverse background of experience and knowledge to his Account Executive position with CoverLink.

In his free time, Tony enjoys spending time with his family, being outdoors, following sports and listening to music.

 

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Meg Barton

Meg Barton

Senior Account Manager

Meg works in the Commercial Lines division at CoverLink as an Account Manager, where she helps businesses with their varying & complex insurance needs, from Business Auto to Commercial Liability, Directors & Officers to Commercial Property.

Meg earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Urbana University in Ohio. She has been active in the insurance industry since 2006, and is an Ohio Notary.

In her spare time, Meg enjoys spending time with her family at Indian Lake, listening to live music and reading.

 

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Jordan Springs

Jordan Springs

Account Manager

Jordan joined the CoverLink team in 2017, bringing top-notch client service skills acquired through several years in the banking industry.

She’s constantly assisting and advising clients on their personal insurance needs – home, auto, jewelry, umbrella and other policies – not to mention, she’s just plain fun to be around!

In her spare time, Jordan enjoys spending time with family and friends, especially her husband and two kids.

 

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Jill Rawlins

Jill Rawlins

Account Manager

Jill works in the Personal Lines Department where she helps individuals and families with their Home, Auto, Umbrella and other personal insurance needs.

She graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2009 from Otterbein University, and shortly after began her career in the insurance industry.

In addition to holding the Ohio Property & Casualty Insurance License, she also has her Accident & Health, Life and Variable licenses.

Jill enjoys spending as much time as she can with her family, and especially enjoys being with her little girl who makes her laugh often.

 

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Chris Badenhop

Chris Badenhop

Insurance Advisor

Chris joined the CoverLink team in 2017 with a diverse and exciting professional and educational background. He works with individuals, families and businesses to find the ideal solution for their insurance needs.

He brings a positive attitude and a desire to help his clients in his position as an Insurance Advisor, but most importantly, he shares one of the most fundamental beliefs we hold dear within our organization: he cares. He cares about his clients, he cares about protecting all that’s important to them, and above all, he cares about doing what’s in the best interest of his clients. His enthusiasm and empathy set him apart, and he’s backed by the top-notch service provided at CoverLink, making him a tremendous asset to his clients. In short, Chris puts people before policies.

In his free time Chris enjoys spending time in the outdoors hunting and fishing. He’s also a passionate sports fan devoting support to all levels of play.

 

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Joe Cooney

Joe Cooney

Senior Insurance Advisor

Shortly after graduating from John Carrol University in 2008, Joe began his insurance career. His original focus and expertise was on personal lines and small commercial accounts, but he has since expanded his focus to include Cyber Insurance and Life Insurance, among other products.

Joe resides in Fairview Park, Ohio with his wife Megan and young son Jack. In his spare time, he coaches youth basketball and volunteers for the special Olympics.

 

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Kelli Young

Kelli Young

Director of Marketing

Kelli brings extensive marketing expertise to CoverLink after spending nine years in the automotive industry, where she gained valuable insight in the areas of design, digital presence, and content creation.

After joining CoverLink in 2015, her focus has been on telling the story of our long standing belief, that people are more important than policies, in a fresh way with a digital twist, allowing consumers who believe what we believe to find us easier.

Kelli graduated from Ohio University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, and earned her Master’s Degree in Business from Ashland University in 2010.

She enjoys spending time with her family, especially being outside with her son and two daughters.

 

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Jami Radern

Jami Rader

Director of First Impressions

As the Director of First Impressions, Jami brings top-notch client service skills. She’s constantly assisting clients with billing inquiries, working to resolve any frustrating issues they’re having, and she’s just plain fun to be around!

In her spare time, Jami enjoys spending time with family, especially her husband and four children and going on four-wheeling trips together.

Erika Asher

Account Manager

Erika works in the Commercial Lines division at CoverLink as an Account Manager, where she helps businesses with their varying & complex insurance needs, from Business Auto to Commercial Liability, Directors & Officers to Commercial Property.

In her spare time, Erika enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with her son.

 

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Erin Whitaker

Account Manager

Erin joined the Personal Lines division at CoverLink in 2019, as an Account Manager, where she helps individuals and families with their Home, Auto, Umbrella and other personal insurance.

She previously worked in the healthcare industry before getting her insurance license in November of 2018.

When Erin isn’t at work, you can find her cheering on her kids at various sporting events almost every day of the week. In addition, she enjoys planting flowers, finding rusty items to decorate with and spending as much time with her family as possible.

Alissa Grim

Alissa Grim

Account Manager

Alissa works as an Account Manager where she helps individuals and families find the insurance that best fits their needs.

In addition to earning her Ohio Property & Casualty Insurance license in 2008, Alissa received her Life Insurance License in 2010.

In her spare time, Alissa enjoys spending time with her family camping, and watching her son race go karts around the U.S.

Vickie Allen

Vickie Allen

Account Manager

Vickie has worked at CoverLink since 2000 helping clients with a diverse set of needs, from securing the coverage that’s best for their individual situation, to providing guidance when claims or billing questions arise.

Vickie currently holds the Ohio Property & Casualty Insurance License, and is well known to clients because of her infectious personality and radiant smile that greets them when visiting the office.

In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, and traveling.

Randy Leopard

Randy Leopard

Vice President

Randy began his insurance career in 2000 working with both personal and business clients on their health insurance needs.  In 2008, he expanded his area of focus to include all types of insurance his clients needed from home & auto insurance, business insurance and farm insurance.

Randy resides in Urbana where he enjoys spending time with his family, and watching his horses race from time to time.

Melodi Wilkins

Melodi Wilkins

Senior Account Manager

Melodi has called CoverLink her ‘work home’ since 2009.  In her position as a Senior Account Manager, she works closely with clients needing home, condo, renters, auto, umbrella and other types of personal insurance coverage. Melodi also provides service and assistance to businesses regarding their insurance protection needs.

In her spare time, Melodi enjoys being outside and spending time with her family, especially with her granddaughter.

Morgan Edwards

Morgan Edwards

Account Manager

Morgan joined the CoverLink family in 2019, as an Account Manager. She helps her clients with personal insurance needs such as, home, condo, renters, auto umbrella and more. In addition, she works closely with business owners on their Commercial Insurance needs to help them achieve their desired level of protection.

In her spare time, Morgan enjoys spending time with her family and friends, making memories and enjoying all that life has to offer!

Sam Ankrom

Insurance Advisor

Sam joined the Coverlink team in 2020 with a strong passion and drive to help people. As an insurance Advisor with his Property & Casualty license, he assists individuals and business with all of their insurance needs.

He is dedicated to going above and beyond for his clients and wants to make sure every client is not only properly insured, but can also feel like a part of the Coverlink family. Sam is committed to helping everyone feel confident and comfortable with their insurance decisions and have the peace of mind knowing they are taken care of by not only himself, but by the entire Coverlink team.

Outside of work you can usually find Sam spending time with friends and family, or outside on the golf course.