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City of Dallas likely targeted in ransomware attack, city official says

Via Dallas Morning News — Dallas officials say the city likely was hit with a ransomware attack, affecting 311, the municipal court and other departments on Wednesday. Dallas chief financial officer Jack Ireland sent a message to the mayor and City Council on Wednesday saying “a number of servers have been compromised” because of the attack. He didn’t specify which servers or city services were affected.

“The team is actively working to isolate the ransomware to prevent its spread, to remove the ransomware from infected servers, and to restore any services currently impacted,” Ireland said. A statement from the city Wednesday afternoon said “the impact on the delivery of city services to its residents is limited.”

Dallas police spokeswoman Kristin Lowman told The Dallas Morning News the department’s website was down because of an outage affecting the city about 12:40 p.m. The outage doesn’t appear to be affecting 911 calls. Although functional earlier in the day, Dallas City Hall’s website was down midafternoon.

Dallas’ 311 app also was hampered Wednesday afternoon. The Dallas Municipal Court posted a notice on its site Wednesday that all jury trials and jury duties were canceled for the day. The city said in its statement residents who experience a problem with city services should contact 311. Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans told The News that the incident is believed to have led to problems with the computer-assisted dispatch system, which is used to help first responders respond to emergency calls. “DFR has been running on manual dispatch operations since early this morning,” Evans said.

The incident comes after an AT&T network outage knocked out city government internet service for hours on April 19, affecting the city’s website, 311 and court services as well as prompting cancellation of a Dallas City Council meeting.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn said she and council members Gay Donnell Willis and Paul Ridley were briefed by city officials on the incident and told city staff were being helped by outside vendors to restore affected systems.

”We are encouraged the attack was limited due to newly implemented tools, but seems to have focused on public safety and servers that have impacted 311 primarily,” said Mendelsohn, who leads the council’s government performance and financial management committee. “Continued investment and updates to our IT department are needed to continue securing City of Dallas resident data and essential city records.”

‘A wake-up call’

Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, professor of computer science at The University of Texas at Dallas, was initially surprised that Dallas, a major city, fell victim to an attack. School systems and other smaller organizations are common targets of ransomware attacks, she said. At the same time, ransomware attacks in the past have targeted entities like Britain’s health services and companies like oil system Colonial Pipeline. “It shouldn’t really come as a surprise also because these attackers are never going to stop,” she said.

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Source | Dallas Morning News 

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2022. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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