Two cyberattacks on government institutions in the spring of 2023 should serve as warnings to accounting firms. The attacks showed both cybercriminals’ hunger for critical information and the damage a single security breach can do.
In one of the cases, the victim seems to have been underprepared for an attack despite prior warnings. Citizens’ personal information ended up on the dark web. In both cases, government institutions that process critical information shut down for an extended period of time and staff had to struggle to restore order.
Why should accounting firms care about government bodies suffering cyberattacks? Both have access to critical information. If anything, accounting firms are a more potentially lucrative target than government organizations because much of the information public entities store is publicly available, if not always easy to find.
Firms are guardians of the lifeblood of their clients’ businesses, and their PII, or personally identifiable information, is extremely valuable. Furthermore, few firms could afford to absorb the type of damage attacks inflicted in Dallas, Texas and in Lowell, Massachusetts.
A cyberattack carried out on May 3, 2023, shut down the municipal court in Dallas, the ninth-largest city in the US, and also affected the city’s police and fire departments. In late May, the court shut down entirely for a week as staff struggled to remediate the effects of the attack.
The consequences were severe. While the city found no evidence of a data leak, the ransomware attack fundamentally brought much of the city’s court operations to a halt. Municipal courts could not take payments at all, not even in person or by phone.
While some citizens might have enjoyed a reprieve from paying parking tickets, others couldn’t move forward with planned projects because the city couldn’t issue building permits. The attack undoubtedly caused the city to lose revenue, at least temporarily and possibly permanently.
Justice took a hit as well. There were court hearings, trials or jury duties scheduled during the shutdowns. It was unclear at the time of writing this post in late May how long the shutdown would affect the court system, as city officials said a full recovery would take weeks.
It wasn’t just the courts that suffered from the attack. The breach affected both the Dallas police and fire departments, in some cases even interrupting access to 911 services. “Today, we’re working like it’s 1965 but it’s 2023,” one police officer told a local TV station.
Almost 1,800 miles away, the city of Lowell was dealing with a recovery of its own. On April 24, a ransomware attack struck the city, putting 5GB of data at risk. On May 11, the ransomware perpetrators released the data onto the dark web.
Officials in the city of nearly 114,000 residents 30 miles north of Boston struggled to recover from the attack. Records leaked on the dark web included not only publicly available information but also private content such as medical billing records and details on disciplinary cases involving city employees.
What’s more, the city’s police department could no longer book prisoners in its own system and had to use a system run by a smaller nearby town instead. Along those same lines, the police department couldn’t release arrest logs to the local press as it normally would. At the time of writing this post, the city was recovering from the breach.
Perhaps the worst part about the Lowell attack is that the city probably should have seen it coming. In fact, one former city councilor did. In 2021, the councilor requested a report on Lowell’s ability to deal with ransomware. The Lowell Sun, the city’s primary newspaper, chronicled the response from Lowell’s CIO:
“’The City of Lowell’s MIS Department has adopted a baseline designed to improve our overall cybersecurity posture,’ which included ‘implementing best practices designed to secure our technology and data,’” the Sun reported.
A “baseline” ultimately wasn’t enough to prevent a cyberattack that the Sun says caused “enormous fallout across the spectrum including operations and social trust.” The newspaper also called the breach “a major unforced error in that the city was wholly unprepared for 21st-century cyberthreats.”
Like cities and municipal courts, accounting firms have information that not just any organization would have. Client data is the lifeblood of both firms and clients themselves. Your firm is the guardian of data that, if it fell into the wrong hands, could destroy your operation and expose your clients to extortion or identity theft.
And it will fall into the wrong hands if you don’t take security seriously. Imagine what would happen if your firm suffered an attack on the level of those that hit Dallas and Lowell. Could you afford weeks of recovery? Potentially shutting down for a week or more? Having your clients’ information leaked on the dark web? Probably not.
You need to make sure your firm is both secure and able to withstand an attack should one happen—and it almost assuredly will at some point. The best way to do that is to run critical applications in the cloud and let a trusted cloud provider’s seasoned experts manage security for you. You can even outsource your whole IT operation if you don’t want to deal with technology internally at all.
Beyond that, the right partner should offer specific security offerings to keep your firm’s data safe, including:
Invest in cloud-based security to protect your clients’ critical data and ensure the security and longevity of your firm. Cities can reinvent themselves constantly. Your firm can’t. You need the right protection right now.
Get peace of mind. Get started securing your firm today.
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