Toronto Zoo hit by ransomware attack

The largest zoo in Canada, Toronto Zoo, was hit by a ransomware attack on Friday, January 5th, affecting systems and some information about visitors, members, and donors.

The zoo confirmed in a statement that they do not store any credit card information.

“Your Toronto Zoo is currently experiencing a ransomware/cyber incident,” the statement reads.

The zoo’s staff immediately took steps to determine the extent of the incident and investigate the impact, if any, on guest, member, and donor records. Toronto Zoo promised to update and share additional information as it learns more about the incident.

“Currently, our animal wellbeing, care, and support systems have not been impacted by this incident, and we are continuing with normal Zoo operations, including being open to guests. The zoo website is not impacted, and ticket purchases can continue to be made online,” the statement reads.

However, due to the impact, the zoo asks anyone trying to contact them for some patience, as response times may be longer.

To resolve the situation, the zoo is working with the City of Toronto’s Chief Information Security Office and third-party cyber security experts. The incident was reported to Toronto Police Services.

“Unfortunately, these incidents are becoming more and more common, and we are grateful we took steps over the past few years to upgrade our technology infrastructure. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through this incident,” the zoo posted.

Toronto Zoo, which is owned by the Toronto municipality, is home to more than 5000 animals from more than 460 species. Its declared mission is to connect people, animals, and conservation science to fight extinction.

The ransomware attack followed a similar incident in the Toronto Public Library system in October 2023, which affected its website and some services and denied access to digital collections and the museum. The City of Toronto also confirmed data theft after being hit by Cl0p ransomware, exploiting the MOVEit vulnerability.

In 2022, the ransomware group LockBit issued a formal apology for a cyberattack on Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids Hospital), Canada’s largest pediatric medical center.

“Cybercriminals will target any infrastructure or industry to inflict disruption, damage, or destruction on their victims. This attack on the zoo continues a string of other attacks against service organizations within Canada, like the Toronto Library and hospitals within Ontario,” James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, commented.

“Organizations need a documented and repeatable process for dealing with ransomware attacks, and it's commendable that the zoo could launch its plan as soon as the ransomware attack is discovered.”

He warns that organizations hit by ransomware usually end up paying from 10x to 100x the cost of the equipment and resources compared to the cost of the ransomware attack in legal fees, third-party forensic or support services, and personnel. More technology, more processes, and more people are required to protect against them, the resources that executives aren’t always willing to allocate.

“Organizations must continue investing in cybersecurity measures and the importance of quick and coordinated responses. It emphasizes the need for ongoing updates and improvements in cybersecurity infrastructure to protect sensitive data and maintain public trust,” McQuiggan concluded.

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