City Councillors pledge to continue support of Malden’s state-of-the-art cyber defense protections
The sheer numbers surrounding cyberattacks on digital technology systems are stark, even bleak. According to Malden municipal Information Technology (IT) Director Anthony Rodrigues, there is no expectation that cyberattacks will diminish or lessen over time, only the opposite.
Rodrigues addressed the Malden City Council with information on a cyberattack in Malden in January. All of the City Council members at the meeting held earlier this month pledged to strongly support the IT director and department to maintain and improve city cyber defense systems with upcoming and future budgetary attention.
As the world moves at lightning pace to more and more digitalization of information, so comes a dramatic increase in cyberattacks – small and large – seeking to compromise information, primarily for financial gain. According to Rodrigues, experts expect cyberattacks to continue to increase in both quantity and, unfortunately, strength and quality of attacks against established cyber-defense systems.
“In the past four years alone, about 442 million people have been victims of cyberattacks, and there have been 5,221,000 verified attacks in the U.S. alone in the past 12 months,” Rodriques told the Malden City Council is a recent presentation that was both informational and educational in its content. The presentation was centered on the cause, response and aftermath of the cyberattack on Malden city informational systems on January 25 of this year.
The main impetus of governmental systems is an expected “ransomware” attack, where cybercriminals take over, or “hijack” city records, files and operating systems and hold them for monetary ransoms, by encrypting it all, not releasing them unless a ransom is paid.
“There have been about 77,000 attacks or penetrations of systems just here in Massachusetts in the past three months,” Rodrigues explained. “It is happening every day, somewhere; it is 24/7.”
The Malden IT director said that while the systems were invaded – briefly – and detected right away, some City of Malden employees’ personal information was compromised. All appropriate steps were taken and there have been no reports of any recurring thefts or cyber activity against those Malden employees. Rodrigues said Malden was fortunate, as city investment into cyber defense programs has put this community near the top of the list in terms of cyber protection, statewide.
“We are continuously evaluating our [cyber defense] looking for ways we can achieve system hardening,” Rodrigues said.
“Despite everyone’s best efforts, this [cyberattacks] is a huge problem for every community in every state, and we will continue to fight it as best we can,” Rodrigues told the Councillors. “We will continue to make sure all of the holes are plugged, even though sometimes it is like a game of ‘whack-a-mole” – you address one issue and another pops right up.
“These attacks are well-planned and very well-funded,” Rodrigues said, though he did note that the Malden cyberattack did not originate from a foreign country or state; that was ruled out right away, he said.
Rodrigues said the Malden cyber defense program has many facets and many levels, including email “spam” filters, internet web filters, virus detection and Artificial Intelligence (AI) tracking – all of this is in place and working 24 hours a day, every day.
“The AI is a gamechanger. It is like a really intelligent five-year-old with an IQ of 2000,” Rodrigues said. “Without [some of the technology we have in place], some of these system penetrations could go undetected for months,” he added.
City Council President Barbara Murphy (Ward 5) told Rodrigues that “I always felt we had not invested enough in our IT department [and defense systems], before the past few years when we have done so.”
“You have our attention now. This is time to tell us what you need,” Murphy said in reference to budget deliberations, which will be coming up soon. “We have to do everything in our power to ensure your department has the most up-to-date systems to protect ourselves.”
“I have descriptions of what you and our other city staff, public safety and others did as a Super Bowl you never wished you were in… and you scored a touchdown,” Murphy added.
“We are ready to assist you in any way. This is a top priority situation and this is the year to ask [for assistance],” Ward 4 Councillor Ryan O’Malley said.
“It is time we get serious about this, even more than we have been,” said Councillor-at-Large Craig Spadafora. “We are here to assist and support in any way possible.”