Alpacas Are on the Loose—As Are the Number of Ransomware Attacks

Alpacas Are on the Loose—As Are the Number of Ransomware Attacks

By | October 1, 2021

OK, so alpacas really aren’t on the loose, but there is an alpaca tie-in here, I promise. Bear with me.

I don’t often watch the fictional TV show “9-1-1”—which follows the complex job responsibilities, risks and dilemmas of firefighters, police officers and emergency dispatchers—but sometimes I’ll watch if my wife turns it on. When she started watching the episode titled “Desperate Times” (Season 5, Episode 2) the other night, something piqued my interest.

The episode begins with a helicopter approaching a building. We learn that it’s a medevac chopper, and there are two people inside: the pilot and an emergency worker who is watching over a heart that is being transported to the hospital for a transplant operation.

Power Outage

All is going well until the power goes out in Los Angeles, and suddenly the helicopter can’t see where it needs to land on the helipad. Even the hospital’s backup generators don’t seem to be working as the area goes completely dark. Oddly, the helicopter’s lights go out as well; we’re not sure why that is, but it’s television, so we’ll let it slide.

Without any lights, the pilot has trouble landing and accidentally hits the tail rotor on the roof of the building, and it forces the helicopter to crash. Perilously hanging over the edge of the roof, the helicopter and its occupants are in real trouble.

After hearing the crash, an emergency rescue team is on the scene quickly to try and save the occupants—and the heart.

Ransomware Attacks

While the fatal accident rate for helicopters in the United States was 0.63 per 100,000 flight hours between 2015 and 2019, according to the Flight Safety Foundation, this blog is not focused on that area of risk. Instead, what caught my attention after that tense opener was a subsequent scene that took place “four days later” explaining why the power went out.

“After a massive ransomware attack on the city’s infrastructure,” the voice says, “Angelinos head into day five of record heat and a citywide power outage,”

Ransomware attack? Record heat? Power outage? Sounds like the trifecta of what could go wrong for safety, sustainability and productivity in one scary package.

I Told You There’d Be Alpacas

OK, so here’s where the alpacas come in. The most bizarre thing that occurs in the episode is when the ransomware attack is able to unlock cages at the Los Angeles Zoo, so the firefighters are sent in to check it out. They see an elephant, a tower of giraffes, a caravan of camels and more, but the “scariest” animals turn out to be a couple of alpacas that appear to be impersonating the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.

Who knew alpacas could produce “bad” spit that comes from the contents of their stomachs? In the episode, the normally docile creatures spit in two people’s eyes at a souvenir store and attack them, which is attributed to Aberrant Behavior Syndrome, which is when alpacas and lamas basically go “berserk.”

Ransomware Offers Quite the Scare

We’re not so concerned about dangerous alpacas, but ransomware attacks are a real problem that companies continually must deal with as the attacks become more and more sophisticated.

There’s a reason Spark listed cybersecurity as one of the biggest operational risks for 2021.

A recent Dell Technologies survey found that of 1,000 information technology decision-makers, 62% of them said they were concerned their organization’s current protections might be insufficient, and 67% said they were not confident critical data could be recovered from a ransomware or malware attack.

security & vulnerability - an elephant-sized problem
E-bookSecurity & Vulnerability: An Elephant-sized Problem
Organizations must have a sound plan in place to deal with attacks to ensure the safety of their people, property, assets and reputation.

With ransomware attacks becoming much more frequent—up 150% in 2020, according to Group-IB, a cybersecurity company based in Singapore—it’s not surprising companies are worried.

Recent Attacks

In December 2014, hackers were able to gain access to a German steel mill and shut down its blast furnace, which caused extensive damage. Earlier this year, the Colonial Pipeline Co. was hit by a cyberattack, which forced the company to shut down its pipeline. As one of the largest pipeline operators in the United States, the company was unable to supply fuel to the East Coast, which led to price spikes and shortages. Of course, there was also a hack at a meat-processing plant earlier this year that Spark covered.

IBM’s 2021 X-Force Intelligence Index report listed energy companies as the third-most attacked organizations with only financial/insurance companies and manufacturing companies seeing more attacks. Interestingly, energy was ranked ninth and manufacturing was ranked eighth in the previous report. This shows cyberattackers are focusing their efforts on operational technology (OT)-connected organizations in 2020, the report said.

Ron Palermo, Sphera’s chief information security officer, told me last year: There are many more internet-connected Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems now than ever before, so, while Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies allow for unprecedented insights, they also must be secured to prevent hacking.

There’s no question the attacks will continue, so companies need to be prepared. That’s why Security and Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) is so important. SVA is designed to help companies see where they could be susceptible to a cyberattack and what the potential consequences could be.

In case you were wondering, we couldn’t find any documented cases of a ransomware attack that led to wild animals being released from their habitats—we’re guessing most zoos are still using old-fashioned locking systems anyway—but the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the Edinburgh Zoo, was the victim of a cyberattack last year. No animals were released in the process, but personal data was gobbled up rather quickly.

Better send the alpacas in to investigate.

Photo credits: FOX. © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Jack Zeman /FOX; photo illustration, Spark.
(Pictured from left: Peter Krause who plays Bobby Nash, the captain of Station 118, on “9-1-1”; Angela Bassett, who plays police Field Sgt. Athena Grant on the program; and a group of firefighters from Station 118 are seen attending to a victim on the episode titled “Desperate Times.”)



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