FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - At least two cities in the Shoals have seen hackers target them this month.
Florence had to cough up a big ransom, while Muscle Shoals was able to fight the hackers off.
Muscle Shoals' firewall stopped the hackers from getting away with any stolen information, but the city of Florence had to spend $300,000 to regain access to its systems.
“The problem is really cyber attacks are an asymmetrical threat. The defender has to get it right every single time. The attacker only has to get it right once,” said University of North Alabama computer science professor, James Jerkins.
Jerkins has been in the IT business for over 30 years.
He says businesses need to consider customers' personal information a toxic asset.
“Keeping information indefinitely about your customers or the entities you do business with creates a significant amount of risk,” said Jerkins.
This is a risk that can expose companies to hackers because most companies are attacked for the useful information they have on file.
“If you’re doing business with me and I collect information about you like your city, state, and zip, that information has value to me as a business owner or an organization,” said Jerkins.
It is also valuable to hackers.
Here's how to securely dispose of that info.
“If it’s on paper you’re going to shred that paper. If it’s stored digitally you’re going to make sure that it has been removed from your digital system,” said Jerkins.
But here's a catch for some customers.
“If I choose to have an organization direct debit my account every month to pay my bill they have to keep my checking account number. They cannot dispose of it,” said Jerkins.
As for the recent cyber attack and ransom in Florence, Mayor Steve Holt says the city’s IT department is upgrading security software.