Mecklenburg County server held for ransom

A sign on the Bob Walton building on Stonewall Street said the records office was closed Wednesday

A sign on the Bob Walton building on Stonewall Street said the records office was closed Wednesday. Credit David Boraks WFAE

Computer servers at Mecklenburg County government offices are being held for ransom by a hacker.

County Manager Dena Diorio said that the hackers got into the county's system when an employee clicked on an email attachment they shouldn't have.

On Tuesday night, Diorio said the hacker was demanding two bitcoins, which amounts to $23,000, by 1:00 p.m. Wednesday.

Diorio told WSOC-TV that she doesn't believe the hackers have access to personal information.

"If you pay the bitcoin, there is always a risk they won't give you the encryption key", she said. The county can restore the files itself, but Diorio says, that could take a long time and come at an even larger cost.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners received an update on the outage during its meeting on Tuesday night.

Mecklenburg County's hacking is just the latest such incident of hacker kidnapping to be reported in the US, with victims including local governments, school systems and businesses.

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On Tuesday, Mecklenburg County posted a statement on its website saying that, 'Each County department is activating its Continuity Of Operations Plan, which is created to address situations like this.

Anyone planning to go to a county office to conduct business is asked to call the office prior to their visit to make sure they can actually be served.

The county is composing a list of all services that it won't be able to be offered because of the hack.

"She said an example of the problem is the county's code enforcement office, where much of the work is done electronically".

Federal and local authorities were not involved in the investigation Tuesday night. Also, the hacker just prevented the access to the files and didn't steal any files from the systems, Diorio added. The hackers demanded $35,000 in the electronic currency bitcoin, but the library refused to pay. While paying the ransom may be the only way to obtain the decryption key, there is no guarantee the hackers will honor their commitment and provide the key.

A question that this scenario brings up is whether the county government remains functional in the short run, given how many jobs are reliant on computer systems.

WSOC reporter Joe Bruno tweeted that it is unclear where the attack originated, but the hackers are in a time zone seven hours ahead of Charlotte, which would include Russian Federation, where cybercrime is frequently based.

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