The American city of Detroit has been suffering serious financial problems for a number of years, and now it seems to be under attack by cybercriminals, as well.

In April, according to Detroit Mayor Mike Dugan, attackers froze the city’s database and held it for a ransom of 2,000 bitcoins, or nearly US$800,000 at the current Bitcoin exchange rate. Fortunately for the city, the databases were not needed by the city, and they did not have to pay the ransom. Along with its serious financial problems, however, Detroit has, according to officials, been under constant cyberattacks for a number of years because of the city’s outdated and crumbling IT infrastructure.

Several Michigan officials recently spoke at the North American International Cyber Summit at Cobo Center in Detroit. Among them were Governor Rick Snyder and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Snyder spoke at length about the problems Michigan has been having with cyberattacks on both private individuals and government offices.

Richard Dale

He suggested that, with the growing interconnectedness of our world, these threats will only increase:

“Twenty years from now, your car is going to be driving itself. The vehicle will be talking to other vehicles, making decisions on when to stop and when to brake.”

The Michigan government has suffered from more than 500,000 computer attacks per day. The attacks, according to the governor, include spam, browser attacks and network intrusions. Snyder, the keynote speaker, added:

“The risks we have today are only going to dramatically increase.”

He suggested that not only was the private sector also vulnerable, but that it should be involved in the solutions to the problems, especially since individuals and small businesses generally cannot afford the security resources that are available to governments.

“We need to get everyone involved, not just the government. It’s the private sector, the individuals, all learning more about cybersecurity.”

In that spirit, Snyder unveiled his new initiative, called the Michigan Cyber Initiative 2015. One part of the initiative is called the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps, which he says would function much like a volunteer fire department.

Mayor Dugan is not so optimistic about the future. During his speech at the summit, he gave several examples of endemic problems within the city’s IT infrastructure:

“It was pretty disturbing what I found. I found the Microsoft Office system we had [was] about 10 years old and couldn’t sync the calendar to my phone.”

Investigators believe that the recent cyberattack on their bankruptcy case, which involved threatening emails and a large amount of money being taken from a personal checking account, might be linked to the ransom demand. Dugan said about the attacker:

  “The timing was such that he certainly thought it was a political agenda.”

He said that the city was in the process of improving security and bringing technologies used by the government into the 21st century. But with a city in bankruptcy — and a governor who loves cutting taxes on businesses, while Detroit still receives funds to upgrade — might be problematical at best. Protecting against data theft is an extremely expensive venture, especially in the case of centralized systems like those used by the governor.

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