Published: Sun, June 23, 2019
Tech | By Anita Cain

Florida city to pay $600K ransom to hacker

Florida city to pay $600K ransom to hacker

The payment was authorized this week by the city council of Riviera Beach, which is located north of Miami, Florida and has a population of around 32,500, the Palm Beach Post reported.

The city's board unanimously voted to authorize the payment of a ransom to hackers who accessed the city's system.

Along with the encrypted records, the city suffered numerous problems, including a disabled email system, employees and vendors being paid by cheque rather than direct deposit, and emergency dispatchers being unable to enter calls into the computer.

City spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown told the New York Times that Riviera Beach was working with law enforcement and security consultants, and that it is "well on our way to restoring the city system". The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security are investigating the attack, said the report. But Allan Liska of the cybersecurity research firm Recorded Future said Riviera Beach's experience looks similar to an attack in March on Jackson County, in which a fairly sophisticated ransomware strain known as Ryuk was used.

Hackers had demanded Baltimore pay a $76,000 ransom, but the city refused. At the Monday council meeting, Justin Williams, the city's interim IT manager, noted the city's websites and email had been restored along with the financial systems and software, but several other systems were not yet restored, including back-up systems. The hackers demanded payment in the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Holt also thinks that little justice can be expected after such potentially disruptive and costly attacks because most of those using malware to accomplish their illegal goals apparently launch attacks from outside the US.

As recently as June 12, local media reported that 30% of city employees still had no email access and many services would not return to full functionality for months. The city is still trying to recover, and this week, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, appointed Maryland's first statewide chief information security officer to help guard against cyber threats. The attack quickly spread to the rest of Riviera Beach's IT systems, taking them all offline. According to the city's latest estimate, the attack has cost it more than $18 million.

Numerous governments and businesses have been hit in the United States and worldwide in recent years.

"They might not pay the initial ransom that was suggested, but they may work with a third-party provider to negotiate the ransom down", Holt said. He said the WannaCry attacks were an exception - the hackers took the money but often didn't release the data.

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