NYC Law Department system breached; cyber-threats pose critical challenge

Hackers breached a computer system at New York City's Law Department, according to City Hall. The city's Cyber Command detected "unauthorized access" in the system and launched an investigation, according to Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

"As the investigation remains ongoing, the City has taken additional steps to maintain security, including limiting access to the Law Department's network at this time," Feyer said.

Cyberattacks and other IT hacks against government entities, infrastructure, and health-care systems are a growing problem in the United States and around the world, experts have said. 

Indeed, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN on Sunday that adversaries are capable of shutting down the nation's electrical grid. She also said that such cybersecurity attacks are taking place much more often than any of us might have realized.  

The Institute for Security and Technology's Ransomware Task Force works with the federal government and with the private sector to try to get a handle on these attacks, which could have devastating effects if the bad actors are successful, according to Christopher Painter, the co-chair of the task force.

"If they're able to do it — and that's a big if — you won't have lights, you won't have power," Painter said. "Think of everything that runs off of electric, everything that's dependent on it would be down, so that would have catastrophic effects on our economy and our people." 

Con Edison told FOX 5 NY that its network is designed to protect from internal and external threats and that its employees are regularly trained to stay aware of potential cyberattacks. 

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The MTA recently revealed that a hacking group breached three of its 18 computer systems. MTA officials said the breach didn't impact customers, employees, or contractors.

Other recent cyber intrusions include ransomware attacks on the fuel transporter Colonial Pipeline and the meat-processing company JBS. Colonial initially paid $4.4 million in ransom to the hacking group but the U.S. Justice Department announced on Monday that it had intercepted and recovered most of the ransom, which was paid in cryptocurrency.

"For the Biden presidency, this represents a real threat," said Michael Balboni, a former New York state Republican lawmaker and a former homeland security adviser. 

He added that federal authorities generally prefer that businesses do not acquiesce to ransom demands. 

"The FBI, if you talk to them, they say, we really wish they wouldn't pay the ransom because then we don't have the ability to track, find out what their forensics are," Balboni said. "When they do pay, they pay in Bitcoin and Bitcoin is very difficult to track." 

NYC Cyber Command is a centralized unit that works with more than a hundred New York City agencies and offices to "prevent, detect, respond, and recover from cyber threats," according to its website.

The Law Department, also known as the Corporation Counsel, drafts and reviews legislation, real estate leases, financial documents, and more. It also represents city officials and agencies in civil litigation.