Cyber Attacks Shut Down Gateway Casinos, Shows How Cyber Crimes Can Affect Industry

  • Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, a privately-held gaming company based in Burnaby, British Columbia, was hit by a ransomware attack on April 16.
  • The company stated that it has notified the relevant privacy officials, law enforcement, and government regulators about the cyber incident.
  • Cyber crimes continue to be a major concern among businesses and government entities in Canada, with the cost of recovery increasing over the years.

Several Canadian casinos remained closed as of Monday after Gateway Casinos and Entertainment was the victim of a ransomware attack in mid-April. The attack has left the company working to remedy the situation, but was still causing IT issues a week since the issue came to light.

After discovering the attacks on April 16, the company shut down most of its operations across Ontario. As of Monday, most of the properties remained closed as the company sought to resolve the issue. Company officials have worked to assure customers that their personal data is safe.

“Over the next few days, the privately held gaming company, which employs roughly 7,000 people, gave little updates,” SaultOnline noted of the days following the closures. “The alerts stated that the corporation had no knowledge of any private information being stolen and that the investigation into what caused the IT disruption was ongoing.”

A Look at the Situation

Gateway, a privately-held gaming company founded in 1992, operates 26 properties in British Columbia and Ontario with an additional two casinos in Edmonton, Alberta. The company is based out of Burnaby, British Columbia, with annual revenues of more than $200 million.

On Friday, Gateway officials offered an update on the situation and noted that the Ontario properties would remain closed at least through the weekend. Management was working with law enforcement as well.

“We are continuing to work with third party experts on a 24/7 basis to determine if there has been any impact on personal information in this case,” Gateway said in a statement. “We want to reiterate that we have notified the relevant privacy officials, law enforcement, and government regulators about the cyber incident.”

Beyond gaming, the company was also forced to reschedule concerts and shut down other entertainment options. The cyber attacks have left staff working around the clock to resolve the issue as most employees and guests remain shut out.

“We appreciate the continued patience of our employees, customers and government partners as we finish the work to reopen our properties in Ontario,” the company noted, “and will continue to provide further updates to the public regarding our reopening as those details are confirmed in the coming days.”

A Growing Concern Among Gaming Operators

After extensive tests on the company’s computer networks, Gateway officials hope for phased reopenings beginning later this week. The halted operations come at a tough time for the industry as Canadian casinos look for their first full year of operation since the pandemic forced properties to close their doors.

Gateway isn’t the first and won’t be the last company to fall victim to ransomware attacks. These attacks involve attempting to breach computer systems. The hackers involved usually lock up a computer system and then demand for a ransom to be paid, often via cryptocurrency, before the attackers relent in their efforts.

In 2022, international online poker operator PokerStars experienced similar hacking attempts during the platform’s World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) tournament series. The company was forced to cancel several tournaments and replay many of them later in the year. PokerStars noted that players’ personal information was kept safe.

This type of hacking at PokerStars is called a DDoS attack and is also a common form of cyberattack. Unlike a ransomware breach, these types of attacks look to knock a system offline completely.

“A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack occurs when multiple machines are operating together to attack one target,” the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency notes. “DDoS attackers often leverage the use of a botnet – a group of hijacked Internet-connected devices to carry out large-scale attacks.

“Attackers take advantage of security vulnerabilities or device weaknesses to control numerous devices using command and control software. Once in control, an attacker can command their botnet to conduct DDoS on a target. In this case, the infected devices are also victims of the attack.”

In the U.S., tribal casinos have been victimized in ransomware attacks in recent years as well. In some cases, hacking efforts have gone well beyond the casino.

“The FBI also said that these ransomware attacks had impacted tribal-owned businesses and public services, including tribal governments, healthcare and emergency service providers, and schools,” experts at information security and technology site reports. “The attacks’ impact varied depending on the tribal entity affected but, in at least one case, ransomware operators took down a tribe’s police department’s computer system, the 911 system, and the public health system.”

In Canada, cyber crimes also continue to be a major concern among business and government entities. Statistics Canada reports that in 2021 businesses affected by a cyber security incident spent more than $600 million to recover. That was an increase of about $200 million from 2019.

Sean Chaffin is a longtime freelance writer, editor, and former high school journalism teacher. A journalism graduate of Texas A&M University, his work has appeared in numerous publications and websites. Sean has covered the gaming and poker industry for many years and also writes about about numerous other topics.