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Held Hostage By Hackers, North Carolina County Refuses To Pay Ransom

Held Hostage By Hackers, North Carolina County Refuses To Pay Ransom
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Anders Hagstrom

A North Carolina county fended off a second wave of “ransomware” attacks Thursday after the county government refused to pay the hackers $23,000 to regain nearly 50 computers.

Mecklenburg County was hit with an initial phishing attack Tuesday, infecting 48 of the county’s roughly 500 computers. County Manager Dena Diorio then made the decision not to pay the hackers, triggering a second wave of attacks Thursday, The Charlotte Observer reported. Mecklenburg is North Carolina’s most populous county, and now its leadership plans to reset its systems and reboot from backup hard drives rather than give in to the extortionists.

“I am confident that our backup data is secure and we have the resources to fix this situation ourselves,” Diorio said in a statement. “It will take time, but with patience and hard work, all of our systems will be back up and running as soon as possible.”

Diorio sent an email warning her employees at the outset of the second attack.

“To limit the possibility of a new infection, ITS is disabling employees’ ability to open attachments generated by DropBox and Google Documents,” she wrote. “The best advice for now is to limit your use of emails containing attachments, and try to conduct as much business as possible by phone or in person.”

Governments and companies across the world have been hit with ransomware attacks throughout 2017 and 2016. Most notable was the global attack in May which exploited a stolen NSA tool to take down tens of thousands of machines in several countries.

Ride-sharing company Uber also had to pay $100,000 to hackers who stole personal data on thousands of drivers and customers in 2016. The company is currently embroiled in lawsuits for concealing both the breach and ransom payment.

Hackers stole a terabyte of data from entertainment company HBO over the summer, including scripts for the blockbuster show “Game of Thrones.” The hackers also took personal contact information for several of the show’s actors.

The North Carolina hackers made their demands in internet currency, ordering Diorio to hand over two Bitcoins, the equivalent of $23,000, according to The New York Times.

“It was going to take almost as long to fix the system after paying the ransom as it does to fix it ourselves,” Diorio said. “And there was no guarantee that paying the criminals was a sure fix.”

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