Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Business | By Max Garcia

County computer hackers demanding 'substantially' more than first reported

County computer hackers demanding 'substantially' more than first reported

Officials in Mecklenburg, N.C. must make a hard decision by 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday: They must choose whether to pay two bitcoins-currently worth about $25,000-to hackers who are holding the county's computer files for ransom.

The hackers gave officials until 1 pay the ransom with 2 Bitcoin in exchange for an encryption key that would release the files.

County officials said Tuesday afternoon that because of the outage, all countywide Information Technology Services systems will be shut down until further notice.

St. Louis was hit in January, when hackers infected every public computer in the St. Louis Public Library system, reported CNN.

County Manager Dena Diorio said a county employee clicked an attachment in an email that exposed the files to the hackers, WCNC-TV reported. The county says no personal data, such as Social Security numbers or health information, have been compromised. The unknown ransomware subsequently encrypted the County's files. The release noted that the city and county maintain separate servers. Also, the hacker just prevented the access to the files and didn't steal any files from the systems, Diorio added. The ransom price demanded by the hackers for that attack was a single bitcoin.

When Montgomery County in Alabama fell victim to ransomware attacks earlier this year, county commissioners paid hackers almost $40,000 free up data. "It could be days", Dario said.

Each County department is activating its Continuity Of Operations Plan, which is created to address situations like this.

Mecklenburg County's hacking is just the latest such incident of hacker kidnapping to be reported in the US, with victims including local governments, school systems and businesses. This will affect email, printing and other County applications, including the ability to conduct business at most County offices. Or maybe they simply wouldn't return access to the files even after the ransom gets paid.

Also, from the county's perspective, paying the ransom could be more economic.

There's a risk you don't get the decryption key and don't get your files back.

"Absolutely not. If they can make us pay now for that, they'll make us pay for something later", says Scarborough.

The Charlotte Observer reported that as yet, the Mecklenburg Police Department is not involved in the case.

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