She demanded, “Well? Get them on the phones and brief them, but without all the gory details! I recognize we don’t yet have a handle on this, but I don’t want to start a panic attack that will build into a Tsunami. Why aren’t you moving?”
The new contractor, Brayson, had been assigned by CATS at the request of the head of the city’s IT department, last week at the start of some network inconsistencies. Brayson was very adept at troubleshooting network issues, project management, and minor programming. He stood nearly two meters, had a square face, dark eyes, and dark hair. He was a perfect fit for this assignment with this experience and fluency in English and Spanish. Brayson sensed the awkwardness of the situation and politely offered, “Uh, Madam Mayor, all the police and firefighting communications signaling goes through the small black box over there in that rack. We haven’t been able to get into it since this attack began.
“Perhaps you have not been briefed with all the relevant and inter-related information. Basically, we are in the electronic command center for the city, but we currently command nothing in this state-of-the-art digitized Spanish Smart City. The garbage sensors are not reporting. The street lights have been turned on during daylight, increasing our utility bills, but we suspect they will probably be turned off at night to facilitate more chaos and crime. Our citywide bus schedules and arrival times are completely wrong. Everywhere in the city, open parking sensors are falsely alerting to now desperately enraged motorists of an open space. All the traffic lights are set to green to enhance the probability of collisions. Oh, and the Wi-Fi mesh that was operating throughout the city to ease the burden on the macro-cell towers, is broadcasting false or duplicate IP addresses, rendering GPS mapping and cellular coverage useless.
“If you really want to alert the police and fire departments of the situation, I recommend you dispatch personnel on bicycles and not try to use the new driverless smart cars the city recently took delivery of for testing. Old school CB radios would have been your fallback method of communications if all that equipment hadn’t been auctioned off last month and hauled away for their copper content.”
Mayor Perez reeled from the information dump. No doubt she was seriously wondering why she ever ran for the office in the first place. She desperately asked, “Can’t we just reboot everything and force initial program reloads? I mean, I do that on my laptop, and even with my fruit phone now and again, to get it to behave! Can’t we do that?”
The contractor slightly rocked his head from side to side and, blinking while clearing his throat, responded, “Are you seriously suggesting that you want us to reboot the city? All the technology that supports all the services that run in machine-to-machine mode?
“There are a few observations I need to make in response to that suggestion. It’s not just the equipment in this room but also in each of the substations, which means reset all the Wi-Fi devices installed on every lamppost, all the city vehicles that are in our communications grid, all the traffic monitors and corresponding stop lights, and all the parking and trash dumpster sensors around the city.
“The ocean going cargo ships should also be radioed and alerted that all ground freight transportation is fouled up as well. Unloading will have to be done using the old manual method that is by walkie-talkie. That physical reset approach to all the devices the city has deployed would only be possible if you could mobilize the entire city to do it close to the same time. With the currently impaired communications in all directions compromised, that process cannot occur.
“The other issue, which I can’t yet prove or disprove, is that the attacker is likely hoping we will do exactly that so they can finish uploading malware into your systems, which could easily occur during a reboot. Some of the best malware programs I’ve ever seen infect a machine and cause enough havoc so that the operator forces a reboot which actually helps the attacker to install the malware software permanently on the hard drive. The program then runs cloaked as a rootkit and is even harder to deal with. At the university, during a class discussion, the instructor recommended that the best cure for rootkits was to take off in a low earth orbit and just nuke the system from space.
“Before you seriously suggest the city reboot, I believe you really want to know if there is code in memory of these systems that will try to write themselves to disk as a consequence of just such an action.”
The moments ticked by in a now very quiet command center until finally Mayor Perez asked, “How much are they asking for again?”
A look of shock immediately appeared on everyone’s face, except for the contractor. As a matter of fact response, he said, “The original ransom demand was for fifty million Euros, but based on the vulgar graphic and challenge on the screens I suspect the price has gone up.
“I have to ask, you’re not seriously considering putting this cybercriminal on the city payroll, are you?”
Mayor Perez was visibly growing adversarial as reflected in her body language. Her chin raised and eyes narrowed, she cocked her head to one side and demanded, “And just what options are left open to us, Mr. Brayson? This extortionist has effectively shut down all our social services. We have no more clue now about how to stop them than when we received the first cyber threat. Hell, for all I know, this all could have been engineered by the previous Mayor and his techno-cronies to show how he and his bunch are the only ones capable of defending and running this city!
“I’m looking at a million Euro deficit for every day we are off-line. If you have any swell ideas on how to purge this cyber-sickness from our systems, I’m all ears! Frankly, it would seem, the only entity that can provide a solution is the one displayed on the monitor! So, yes, I am considering ALL my options!”
Unruffled by her tirade, Brayson offered, “Allow me to point out, without a defense against this well-crafted attack, our adversary can return at any time and treat your city like an ATM machine. Even if this bunch didn’t, word could get around the cyber underground to others trying to cash in on the money train, because all they have to do is pretend to be the same extortionist. I do not advocate a course of action that ends up in paying the extortion monies, Madam Mayor.”
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