BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards called on Louisiana's local government leaders Wednesday to protect their data, reminding them of recent cyberattacks across the state and saying they're likely to face such a strike in the future.
"You may not have been hit yet in your town or in your city. But it's a question of when, not if," the Democratic governor told a luncheon crowd of the Louisiana Municipal Association.
A cyberattack on Louisiana's state government computer servers in November disrupted some agency operations for weeks. Since July, at least eight of Louisiana's public school systems have reported hackers that targeted their computer networks, infecting them with malware or ransomware. A December cyberattack forced New Orleans to shut down city computers for several weeks. And other local government agencies and sheriff's offices have grappled with attacks.
Edwards urged the local elected officials Wednesday to follow the state's lead in refusing to pay ransom to hackers and in backing up data to secure against losses. He also encouraged cybersecurity insurance for those who can afford it.
"I don't want anybody paying that ransom because if you do, then their business model is affirmed, and they're going to keep doing this over and over," Edwards said.
He added: "We can help, but I need you all to do what you can now to make sure that those attacks, when they happen, they are not successful, that you are backing up your data frequently, and that that data is kept behind a firewall that has the protections necessary."
Edwards has repeatedly warned the public and government officials that ransomware hits around the state are a new normal.
He's established a cybersecurity emergency response team that includes leaders from the technology services office, the homeland security department, the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana National Guard and university experts. He's also created a cybersecurity commission aimed at finding ways to better prepare against attacks and to make Louisiana a leader in the field. He's pledged to steer state money to help establish a cybersecurity center in Baton Rouge.
In a hearing after the ransomware hit on the state's computer systems, Neal Underwood, Louisiana's deputy chief information officer, told lawmakers: "We get thousands of attempts to access our system every single day, 365 days a year."
Ten percent of Louisiana's 5,000 state government computer servers were damaged by the November hit, according to a tally presented to lawmakers. But officials said no data was lost, and no ransom was paid. The worst effect on the public seemed to be at the Office of Motor Vehicles, which shuttered all of its branch locations for a week while its computer systems were repaired.