WASHINGTON – In Maine, cybercriminals took over the computer system shared by five police agencies for about 2 weeks last year until the departments paid the crooks $300. In Los Angeles, a large hospital shelled out $17,000 this year to regain access to its electronic medical records that criminal hackers took hostage. And in eastern Ohio, Columbiana County was forced to pay more than $2,800 in ransom in June after computers in its juvenile court system became infected.
Cyber-age extortionists – who use so-called ransomware software to hijack computer systems and hold them hostage until their victims pay a ransom – increasingly are preying on local governments, hospitals and even police departments, and forcing officials to decide whether to meet the demands or risk losing their data.
“Without that information in our computers, we were stuck,” said Ronald Young, police chief of Damariscotta, Maine, one of the police departments hit in last year’s attack. “We needed to get it back. We use it on a daily basis. It contains information about arrests and warrants and any contact we have with the public.”
Even if officials decide to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in ransom as the Maine departments did, their computer networks and communications are often crippled for a day or more by the viruses. If officials decide not to pay and restore their systems on their own, it can take days, even weeks, to get back up and running. In the meantime, public services for residents, schoolchildren and even hospital patients may be affected.
In a nation whose policy is not to pay ransom to terrorists, having to pay what often is taxpayers’ money to extortionists who frequently operate out of Eastern Europe or Russia is especially galling to someone like Young.
“It’s a sign of terrorism,” Young said. “I’m a former Marine and we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
But in the end, he said, paying $300 was the only technologically feasible way the departments could reclaim their data. Paying ransom is a prospect that local and state officials increasingly are confronted with.
Read more here: www.saukvalley.com/2016/10/17/high-tech-hijackers-hold-computer-data-for-ransom/a8rbh3i/