Ransomware hackers cripple Baltimore

24 May 19

Hackers have been holding local government in the US city of Baltimore hostage for more than two weeks.

A ransomware attack against servers in the Maryland city has blocked official email accounts and disabled online payments by local citizens to city departments.

City officials are refusing to pay a demand for $100,000 (£79,000) in the Bitcoin crypto-currency by the hackers – who launched their attack on 7 May – and have called in federal agents.

Baltimore’s mayor Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young said he had engaged leading industry cybersecurity experts to deal with the incident – the second such attack to strike the city in two years – and was cooperating with the FBI in trying to identify the culprits.

“We immediately went into incident response mode, quickly took services and systems offline to contain the attack, and activated key partners to help us investigate and respond,” he said in a statement.

“We established a web-based incident command, shifted operations into manual mode and established other workarounds to facilitate the continued delivery of services to the public. 

“We continue to adjust and refine the delivery of those services that were only partly interrupted and to pursue ways to reactivate any services that were completely interrupted.”

The hackers used ransomware called RobinHood which is known to be a powerful program making it impossible to access server data without a digital key.

While city officials are trying to put on a brave face, the attack has been highly disruptive.

More than 1,500 home sales have reportedly been delayed because officials could not inform insurers whether sellers had unpaid liens, citizens have been unable to pay water bills, property taxes and parking tickets, and 10,000 city government computers are frozen.

Cyberattacks against local government has become a growing problem in the US, and according to National Public Radio more than 20 municipalities have been targeted this year alone.

While the decision not to pay up is common, it can be costly –  the city of Atlanta refused to pay demands for $50,000 in Bitcoin in a ransomware attack, but ultimately faced a repair bill of $17m according to one report.

  • Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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