While most Americans were waiting for President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, and irate leftists were plotting ways to disrupt the festivities in downtown Washington, DC, the Secret Service was dealing with a crisis that threatened the very security of the inauguration parade. Someone had hacked DC police department computers and taken control of two-thirds of the computers connected to surveillance cameras, thus taking control of the cameras covering a vast swath of downtown DC. And with only about a week until the inauguration, authorities had to work fast.
The hackers demanded a ransom of about $60,000 worth of Bitcoin in order to return control of the computers and cameras, a demand which authorities had no plans to honor or acknowledge. They eventually discovered that the hackers were a pair of Romanians who had previously been involved in online credit card fraud, and were able to take the cameras down, clear the computers of their infections, and get the surveillance cameras up and running once again. But the timetable was tight, with the cameras only getting back up and running three days before the inauguration.
The implications for security in numerous US cities as a result of this hack are enormous, as it only took one employee to click on a malicious link for the computers and security cameras in the nation’s capital to fall victim to nefarious actors. That doesn’t inspire confidence in government officials, particularly those who insist that they need to be able to track more and more of our daily lives each and every day.
We saw what happened when Baltimore’s computer systems were taken down earlier this year, and now we know what happened in DC two years ago. Any trust placed in government officials to keep safe camera feeds, video footage, or other surveillance records is ultimately misplaced.
Thankfully this incident in 2017 didn’t result in any major consequences, but that’s only because the criminals involved were small-time hoodlums who were just in it for the money. If the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, or North Koreans were to launch a concerted cyber-attack like this, just how prepared would US authorities be?