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Hackers demand $25K-$30K after ransomware attack takes down county's servers in Idaho

By Stephan Rockefeller, EastIdahoNews.com  |  Posted Feb 17th, 2017 @ 7:34pm


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BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Bingham County, Idaho officials are still scrambling to rebuild parts of their computer infrastructure after a ransomware attack took down county servers on Wednesday.

Although efforts have been made to correct the problem, computer issues remained as of Friday.

“Every department in the county is affected in some way,” Bingham County Commissioner Whitney Manwaring told EastIdahoNews.com. “Phone systems, computer systems, everything. Some departments are handwriting documents.”

The ransomware attack was initially discovered on Wednesday, Manwaring said. The attack delivered malware to the county servers that encrypted the data and made the computer systems inaccessible to county employees.

A group of hackers, who have not been identified, then contacted the county and demanded they pay a ransom to obtain a password that would decrypt the data on the county servers.

“They have asked for a price between $25,000 and $30,000 to be paid through BitCoin or Western Union,” Manwaring said. “Either of those transactions would be difficult, if not impossible, to track.”

The county chose not to pay the ransom and switched over to backup servers Wednesday. Bingham County information technology staff thought the virus was contained but discovered around 4 a.m. Friday that the virus had infected at least one backup server, causing the entire county to go offline.

“The attack is similar to those that have affected other counties,” Manwaring said. “Right now it appears to be foreign, but it is very difficult to trace and say that for sure.”

The damaged infrastructure brought down the county website and caused problems in the county dispatch center. Emergency 911 calls went through to the system, but were not recorded by the computer tracking logs. Dispatchers also had to use physical maps and cell phones to direct officers to emergencies and at times used computer-aided dispatch services from Boise, officials said. Thousands of radio transmissions and hundreds of calls and police reports will have to be logged manually once the system is back up.

“We have qualified people working to clean up the mess,” Manwaring said.

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Ultimately, no damage will be permanent, because the county has backups for all the existing information. Manwaring said the cost of cleaning up the virus is unknown at this time; however, the county’s insurance company, Idaho Counties Risk Management, has a deductible of $1,000 for such a situation.

“We had all kinds of firewalls in place to prevent these kinds of things from happening,” Manwaring told EastIdahoNews.com. “To prevent this from happening again there will likely be several more firewalls and more training for staff using county computers.”

County officials hope to have all computer systems back by sometime this weekend.

The Teton County website was also subject to a hack on Wednesday, with a Turkish hacker claiming responsibility for defacing the website. There is no evidence linking either computer crime.

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