Rep. Elissa Slotkin met with community leaders to discuss prevention methods.

In response to heightened concerns over cyber attacks that target state and local government, Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin convened a meeting this month with local government officials, businesses and financial institutions to discuss preventative measures.

Whole cities like Baltimore and Atlanta have been crippled by ransomware attacks in recent years. Hackers paralyze government networks and hold data hostage until a ransom is paid. The data is often sensitive, including personal information from residents in the community.

Taking even basic services offline can shut down parts of local governments. In Atlanta, a cyber attack forced the closure of municipal courts and denied residents access to water bill and traffic ticket systems. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the 2018 attack cost taxpayers upwards of $2.7 million.

Slotkin’s meeting with local officials comes on the heels of elevated tensions between the United States and Iran, that according to her office could lead to an increased risk of cyberattacks against cities and businesses. The meeting also included attendees from local utility companies, schools and private companies. 

“This elevated concern about potential Iranian-affiliated threat was a good opportunity to talk about preventing attacks, more generally, that many of us are seeing across our systems, especially those who are responsible for maintaining people or community and data,” Slotkin said in a statement.

Iran has a history of cyber attacks and retaliations against other countries. The Atlant hackers were two Iranian citizens, according to reports, that were involved in a nationwide plan to attack small governments and public systems.

“In the year that I’ve been a congresswoman, one of the most common things I’m asked about when I go visit a local town supervisor or a school district, or a business, is cyber security,” Slotkin said during the meeting. “And we know a lot of our smaller communities in particular have been attacked and on the receiving end of a constant stream of cyber threats, not necessarily from a state actor, like Russia or China or Iran, but from just a grab bag of folks who are trying to either get to someone’s data, destroy equipment or ransom that data.”

Slotkin, who served as a CIA analyst before starting her career in Congress, has been vocal about her concern over escalating tensions with Russia and has also been at the forefront in efforts to prevent President Trump from unilaterally escalating tensions with Iran.