‘We need a national plan’: Worst year for cyber attacks in B.C., say experts

'We need a national plan': Worst year for cyber attacks in B.C., say experts

The Cowichan Valley School District and Federated Co-Operative Limited were both recently the targets of cyber attacks.

“The most likely explanation is this is some form of cyber attack and a ransomware attack is the most likely option,” said Brett Callow, a threat analyst for EMCsoft.

Ransomware attacks are where online gangs hold information hostage until the organizations pay a ransom.

Commerical trucks were unable to fuel up at Co-Op’s cardlocks, the fleet fueling stations, and the company’s main website was down on June 27.

In the Cowichan Valley School District, nearly 8,000 students were learning without internet for the last week of school as a ‘cyber incident’ knocked out Wi-Fi and the District 79’s website.

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Schools: soft targets

Cyber security experts say schools make for soft targets for ransomware gangs.

“School districts are not resourced to protect themselves like a government or a global bank. So they are easy targets to hit,” said David Shipley with Beuaceron Security.

In B.C., school districts have to design their IT systems which can house very sensitive information. Without standardization, experts say they don’t all get it right.

“We’ve seen teachers’ disciplinary records and salary records end up online. Details of sexual assaults naming people. So these do have the potential of being really bad,” said Callow.

Surging attacks on schools since 2019

Cowichan Valley School District’s cyber incident is possibly just the latest in a much larger pattern.

“We’ve seen a continued surge in attacks across North America on education in general but specifically K-12, since the pandemic began,” said Shipley.

But the threat doesn’t just stop at schools.

“We’re in a mess,” said Shipley. “It’s part of what I would say is one of the worst years ever for British Columbia.”

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The worst year on record for cyber attacks in B.C.

This year B.C.’s own government faced several cyber attacks.

“We have reason to believe a state or state-sponsored actor was involved,” Minister of Safety Mike Farnworth said during a press conference on May 10.

The province’s solicitor general said their systems face an onslaught daily.

“There are about 1.5 billion attempts on access government servers per day,” said Farnworth.

Earlier, London Drugs was forced to shut its stores for a week in late April after Russian cybercriminals LockBit demanded ransom for data. London Drugs refused to pay and the hackers released corporate data and some employee personal information.

Two weeks later, BC First Nations Health Authority was hit by a different cyber gang, which posted to the dark web the health authority’s budget, contracts, cheques paid to First Nations, and some sensitive patient information.

The attacks are not believed to be connected but highlight a growing trend.

“We need a national plan yesterday, for what we need to do about ransomware,” said Shipley.

Paying the ransom compromises Canadian global interests

Experts agree the cost of not having a plan geo-politically is catastrophic, given that many of the gangs have government ties.

“Ransomware gangs made $1-billion last year. That’s a lot of money. That money has gone to fuel Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine,” said Shipley. “It has fuelled North Korea’s nuclear programming.”

The cold reality is that the cash given up not only causes society-level disruptions in B.C. and Canada, but also compromises Canadian global interests and could fund world harm, experts say.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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