Ransomware attacks prompt Bay Area schools, governments to beef up security

The recent rise in ransomware attacks and cyberhacking has forced education systems, municipalities, and businesses to revamp their security.

In the past year, cybercriminals hacked Colonial Pipeline, a meatpacking plant and the city of Oldsmar’s water treatment plant. Now, Tampa Bay area groups are trying to make sure they're not next on the list.

"I believe it was the meatpacking company that had all of their files backed up," said Ron Sanders, the staff director at Cyber Florida. "If there’s lesson number one, it’s to make sure that you are backing up everything you do several times a day."

RELATED: Ransomware attack on major US pipeline linked to criminal gang known as DarkSide

Sanders said there are several lessons learned.

"Too many organizations, too many, public and private, take for granted some of the very simple things, the basic blocking and tackling of cybersecurity, like cyber hygiene for your workforce or like these patches and backups," he explained.

Pinellas County Schools administrators said the increase in ransomware attacks prompted them to approve paying more to expand its insurance coverage to handle cybercrimes.

"Cyber insurance is not necessarily a get out of jail free card. It is a protective blanket, so to speak, where, in the event you have a security incident and you’re able to claim that incident, you’re able to get financial support from those cyber insurance companies," said James McQuiggan, a security awareness advocate with Clearwater IT security firm KnowBe4.

McQuiggan said cyber insurance is one piece of a larger puzzle.

"It’s important that users at these organizations have the necessary training and education to keep them aware of how the cybercriminals are doing these attacks," said McQuiggan.

Security experts said the basic prevention tools are still worth learning for the next hacking attempt, such as teaching employees how to spot and avoid phishing emails, as well as installing security updates on computers as soon as they are available.

"This is a chess game. The bad guys make a move, the good guys make a move," said Sanders.

A spokesperson with Hillsborough County Schools said they are looking into options for more cyber insurance. FOX 13 also checked in with Hillsborough County government, the city of St. Pete, Tampa and other area school districts. They all said they monitor and review their security measures and make changes as needed.