Hackers demand $23K ransom from North Carolina county

Hackers demand $23K ransom from North Carolina county
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Officials in Mecklenburg County, N.C., are weighing whether to pay a $23,000 ransom demand to hackers who breached and took over county government computer systems. 

They expect a decision to be made by the end of Wednesday. 

County officials initially reported a computer system outage on Tuesday, after which it was revealed that hackers had breached the county’s computer system and was holding it for ransom, demanding $23,000 be paid in bitcoin. 

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At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, county manager Dena Diorio said that a decision had not yet been made on whether to pay the ransom. 

“If we do pay, the first thing that we need to do is to set up a crypto currency account,” Diorio said, noting that it would take several days to set up the account, obtain the encryption key from the hackers, and test whether it works. 

“If we don’t pay, we have to rebuild our applications from scratch,” she said. “This situation will be resolved in days, not hours.” 

County officials have been working with cybersecurity experts to assess the situation and have been informed that the hackers are likely from Iran or Ukraine, based on the cyber forensics analysis. Diorio described the ransomware used in the attack as a new strain. 

She said there is no indication thus far that any data had been damaged. 

Forty-eight of the county's 500 servers were impacted in the cyberattack, Diorio said. Multiple county services were affected as a result.

Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have offered their assistance in the matter, Diorio said. She told reporters that county officials had consulted with FBI agents but were not “actively working” with the federal bureau.

This isn't the first instance of such an attack targeting local government computer systems. 

Hackers successfully struck computer systems in Montgomery County, Ala., in September with a ransomware attack. Officials eventually paid the ransom. 

Cybersecurity experts and law enforcement generally recommend against paying the ransom, which can further incentivize these types of attacks.

Mecklenburg County is part of the Charlotte metropolitan area.