Tag Archives: Atlanta

City of Atlanta Hit By Ransomware Attack

The City of Atlanta computer network was hit by a ransomware attack last week. The attack left a portion of the city’s data encrypted. According to city officials the full extent of the attack is still under investigation.  Attackers were successful in shutting down some of the city’s online services, including “various internal and customer-facing applications” used to pay bills or access court-related information. The city’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, urged city employees and anyone who had conducted transactions with the city to carefully monitor their bank accounts in case their personal information is misused.

Ransomware is a software that takes control of a computer or computer network and shuts it down by encrypting the data until the ransom is paid. The attacker will usually threaten to destroy the data if the money is not paid. In Atlanta’s case the attacker has demanded approximately $51,000 in bitcoin. City officials have not said if they will pay the ransom. Experts believe paying the ransom will only encourage future attacks.

According to a local NBC news affiliate the ransomware used in the attack is part of a family of ransomware known as SamSam that has been deployed against governments and healthcare systems since 2015.

Though Atlanta’s population is just under 500,000 it is the ninth largest metropolitan area in the country and has the nation’s busiest airport. Atlanta’s new Chief Operating Officer, Richard Cox, who came on the job just a week ago,  said that several departments have been affected. But Cox pointed out that agencies responsible for public safety, water and airport services have not been affected. Mayor Bottoms stated that the city is working with the FBI, DHS, Microsoft and Cisco to find out what data may have been compromised.

The city issued a statement on Tuesday instructing employees that they could begin to turn their computers and printers back on. The move is part of an assessment of the overall impact of the attack. However, CNN reports that systems that allow residents to pay their water bills or parking tickets online remains shutdown. Police have been forced to do some paperwork by hand while some court proceedings have been cancelled.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

Members of Mayor Bottom’s team informed Atlanta City Council members last week that there was  “a high likelihood that the incursion came through the City Council side of the building, through some software used by the Atlanta City Council called the Legislative Management System.”

According to NPR reporter Emily Cureton city officials were warned months ago of weak security in its computer systems. “The audit found a significant level of preventable risk to the city. The auditor writes there were long-standing issues, which city employees got used to and also didn’t have the time or resources to fix. The audit concludes Atlanta had no formal processes to manage risk to its information systems.

Rendition Infosec, a Georgia-based cybersecurity firm, tweeted on Tuesday that it had uncovered data showing a handful of city computers came under attack last year.

Jake Williams, owner of Rendition Infosec said, “We dug into our data and perhaps unsurprisingly, at least 5 of their machines were compromised in April 2017.”

Now the problem facing Atlanta officials is that time is running out to pay the ransom. According to NPR there may be nowhere to send the money. A local television station obtained a copy of the ransome note and tweeted the message out. The result was the payment portal set up by the attackers, with the countdown clock, was disabled. The portal contained a link to a bitcoin wallet.

According to the city’s information webpage there is no resolution in site at this time. According to Mayor Bottoms, “Everything is up for discussion.”





Race and Technology – Algorithms

Algorithm– a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

AlgorithmsIf you think computing, technology and the Internet is color blind you would be wrong. We are learning that race plays a big part in the way computers operate because people operate computers.

Amazon is currently under fire because its algorithms have told it not to offer Amazon Prime service to minority areas of Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York City and Washington, D.C. The algorithm basically figured out that these areas are unprofitable. According to Amazon it was not a racist act but instead a simple business decision based on an algorithm.  But the question remains; is this racism?

Algorithms can be racist and sexist. Algorithms decide what ads minorities and women see on websites. Studies have shown that marketing algorithms recognize certain patterns that indicate the race and gender of the person by the websites they visit.  This is called bias. Because of algorithms women will see jobs that pay less than men and Black people see ads for certain neighborhoods but not others.  The result is that certain information and opportunities are hidden or withheld from women and Black people.

An analysis by Bloomberg reveals that Amazon has some explaining to do. Amazon claims that it cares not who shops at their online stores. According to Craig Berman Amazon’s Vice President of Global Communications, ““We don’t know what you look like when you come into our store, which is vastly different than physical retail. We are ridiculously prideful about that. We offer every customer the same price. It doesn’t matter where you live.”

Amazon has been working to compete with the retail stores by meeting the need for immediate gratification of buying something and having it right then and there. Amazon’s same day delivery is meant to do just that. It promises same day delivery on millions of products for Prime members in cities where the service is available. The service is available in 27 cities with coverage in most areas within the city limits.  However Bloomberg’s analysis shows the service is not available in predominantly black neighborhoods in six major same-day delivery cities. African-Americans are about half as likely to live in neighborhoods with access to Amazon same-day delivery as white residents.

Amazon is not deliberately making decisions on where to deliver based on race. According to Berman the ethnic make up of neighborhoods isn’t part of the data Amazon uses to make decisions on where to deliver.  “When it comes to same-day delivery, our goal is to serve as many people as we can, which we’ve proven in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Demographics play no role in it. Zero.”

After coming under fire for its algorithms Amazon has changed some of its delivery areas as a result.  In Boston, Amazon has expanded to the predominantly Black community of Roxbury. Amazon has also responded to complaints in the Bronx, New York and Chicago.

But there is clearly more to algorithms than just performing calculations. A recent discovery by an MBA student revealed a  search on Google for unprofessional hairstyles returned hundreds of pictures of black women with natural hairstyles. A search for professional hairstyles returned  pictures of  white women.  In many of the images the hairstyles were similar with the color of the woman’s skin the only difference. This is the algorithm at work.

But you have to ask; how does an algorithm recognize a black sounding name?  If a person were to Google search a black sounding name the ads that appear with the search return are often for services that let you look up arrest records.  Another example occurred last July when  Google’s facial recognition software tagged black faces with the word gorilla. A Google engineer apologized and fixed the problem. But another search using the word “nigger house” or “slave quarters” returned images of the Whites House. How does this happen?

Some researchers believe that search results that reveal racial or gender biases is the result of the programmers working on an algorithm. Programmers are overwhelmingly white men. Could this be an extension of the lack of diversity in the technology industry? Researchers cite the disproportionate ratio of 2:1 male to female ratio in students seeking coding careers and an even more dismal ration of black programmers. This diversity gap of racial and gender bias in algorithms demands urgent attention and correction.







Ludachris Jumps into the Tech Game



Rapper Ludachris, real name Chris Bridges, has decided to join a host of other rap artists and athletes  who have decided to get into the tech game.

Ludachris announced that he will be partnering with Atlanta based delivery company Roadie. Roadie proclaims itself to be the first neighbor-to-neighbor delivery network. The service works by allowing someone who has a package to be delivered to post a “Gig.” Drivers traveling in the direction where the package needs to go will see the posting and claim the job of delivering it. Both parties must to agree on the terms of delivery. The sender can schedule a pick up and delivery the same day or anytime they wish. Senders can track the package to its destination. No pricing information was made available on the website.

In a statement Ludachris said, “I am intrigued by new technology and I love seeing the Atlanta tech scene on the rise so I partnered with Roadie to help spread the word about this brand new, completely unique app created in Atlanta. In a world where I feel we need a lot more people helping each other out, Friendshipping is the future.”

Also seeRap & Hip-Hop Artist Invest in Technology