IT departments wage a constant battle to keep cyber threats out, safeguarding sensitive information and preventing services from shutting down.   

It is an online battle some cities have lost against cybercriminals wielding ransomware. 

This week, a cut cable brought down all the City and County computers across Oahu, and kept them offline for hours. Ransonware could also do that, unless government systems are fully protected or pay up. 

 
"Regarding cyber security and cyber terrorism we've been very lucky," said Mark Wong, the Director for the City and County of Honolulu's Department of Information Technology.
 

Especially because city computers are seemingly always under attack from viruses and malware.

"There are daily attempts to do this," added Wong.

The State of Hawaii's 12,000 computers also face nearly constant cyber attacks.

"We have on order 40-45 million attacks that we deflect on a monthly basis," Vincent Hoang, Hawaii Chief Information Security Officer said. 

Most computers are equipped with malware and virus protection, which stop the vast majority of threats. But some still sneak in.

"Right now, the most active investigations we work on are related to phishing related issues," Hoang said. 

Phishers want employees to input passwords or click links to malware. So the Office of Enterprise Technology services randomly sends out fake phishing messages. That way employees will get in the habit of alerting them when they receive a suspected link, or provide education in case they click on it.

Meanwhile, the City and County of Honolulu keeps its system segregated from the world wide web.

"All of our city employees can't get to the internet, it is blocked for them and me. So everything we do, a proxy does on behalf of the user. That really reduces the risk tremendously," Wong said. 

Instead of blocking everyone off, the state system is segmented. So if an attack gets through, one office wouldn't infect another, or the whole division in a department.

Other places haven't been as lucky as Hawaii, with ransomware cutting off services by encrypting data. And keeping it that way unless cybercriminals were paid to release a key. 

Some towns had not choice but to fork over thousands of dollars in ransom money. But systems here aren't as vulnerable, because they have backup data centers.

"In case we were ever held hostage for a system, we have all these things replicated. It also takes a snapshot several times every hour. So if someone encrypts it, we can get it back," said Wong. 

This year the state also spent $750,000 for cyber-insurance, something the city is also looking into, that would help strengthen security measures after a major cyber attack.

"The cyber liability insurance coverage would provide response and mitigation of it. When data is lost you can't get it back," stated Hoang. 


?     Both city and state information security officials said their systems are safe right now, but they add they have to remain vigilant. Because hackers are constantly testing networks for opportunities to get in, and keep coming up with innovative ways to attack across the internet.