LatAm in Focus: Cyber Attacks in Costa Rica Expose a Regional Threat

By Chase Harrison

A series of hacks pummeled Costa Rica. Cybersecurity expert Belisario Contreras covers what it showed about the region’s digital vulnerabilities.

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They called it “El Hackeo.” Starting April 17, Costa Rica was the victim of a massive cyberattack that lasted over two months. The attack, perpetrated mainly by the pro-Russia Conti criminal gang, paralyzed all kinds of operations in the country, with over 30 ministries targeted. Government employees couldn’t get paid. Trade halted. Thousands of doctors' appointments were cancelled. Conti initially asked for a ransom of $10 million. Costa Rica refused to pay and the attacks ended up costing the country roughly $30 million a day.



“This time [the attack] was on Costa Rica, but it could have been to other major countries,” said Belisario Contreras, senior director of global security and technology strategy at Venable. Contreras, the former head of cybersecurity at the Organization of American States (OAS), spoke to AS/COA Online’s Chase Harrison about Costa Rica’s experience and Latin America’s levels of preparedness for cybercrime.

Contreras explained vulnerabilities in cybersecurity—as the case of Costa Rica shows—can cover all sectors, from finance to energy to health. Knowing that, he said governments, large multinationals, small businesses, and consumers alike must all take steps to be prepared especially in the digital era.

“Every day technology is evolving—and the threats are evolving.”

Contreras explained that many countries have yet to make the commitment to shoring up digital infrastructure. According to a 2020 cybersecurity report spearheaded by the Inter-American Development Bank and the OAS, only seven of the 32 countries studied in the Americas have a critical infrastructure protection plan. That includes Costa Rica and, while it helped the country parry some aspects of the cyberattack, the Central American country still took a hit.

Contreras ends with a call to action: As the world increasingly digitizes and more citizens get online, cybersecurity preparedness needs to be elevated as a top political concern. If not, the region could face serious financial and humanitarian consequences.

Executive Producer Luisa Leme and Producer Jennifer Vilcarino produced this episode.

The music in this episode is Costa Rica’s Manny Oquendo performing at the Americas Society. Learn more at: musicoftheamericas.org