NC county computer hackers demanding 'substantially' more than first reported

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Multiple files from Mecklenburg County's server are being held for ransom after they were hacked, County Manager Dena Diorio said Tuesday.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio says that the county has backup data and other resources to restore its computer system but that the process could be time-consuming.

"It was going to take nearly as long to fix the system after paying the ransom as it does to fix it ourselves". "And there was no guarantee that paying the criminals was a sure fix". Diorio said it would have taken days to restore the county's computer system even if officials paid off the person controlling the ransomware, so the decision won't significantly lengthen the timeframe.

"Things that we were doing electronically, we are now moving to paper", Diorio said. In the meantime, county officials have been forced to revert to paper systems. Systems involving Health and Human Services, the court system and Land Use and Environmental Services are top priority, according to the statement. She said the ransomware was a new strain called a "lockscript", which appears to have originated in Iran or Ukraine, and affected 48 of the county's 500 servers.

During Wednesday's press conference, Diorio denied reports that the ransom was more than the original $23,000 that was initially reported. Not paying and instead rebuilding applications could take longer still, she added.

"It was going to take nearly as long to fix the system after paying the ransom as it does to fix it ourselves", she said.

Diorio said the hacker wants $23,000 or two bitcoin for the files, and gives the county until 1 p.m. Wednesday to make a decision.

"You're taking a risk when you do that", he said.

The officials also weighed whether any encryption key would actually work to unlock the servers and whether they would then be completely free of the ransomware.

The Department of Social Services is asking customers to confirm transportation scheduling. The outage will reportedly affect email, printing, and other ways to conduct business at most county offices.

It was an email with just such an attachment that was opened earlier this week by a county employee that triggered the freeze on much of the county's computer system. "The city's Innovation and Technology department has taken steps to ensure the security of the city's systems".

The CIO pointed out that events similar to the hack in Mecklenburg County will continue to happen around the world, and require public officials to be continually on guard against cyberintruders.