- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The county encompassing Alabama’s capital city is out more than $40,000 after paying to regain access to data seized by a ransomware infection that recently brought local operations to a standstill.

Montgomery County spent between $40,000 and $50,000 over the weekend purchasing Bitcoin, a type of digital cryptocurrency, in order to pay off the perpetrator or perpetrators responsible for infecting its computers with ransomware last week, the Montgomery Advertiser reported Monday.

The infection, discovered on Sept. 19, sidelined nearly every agency in Montgomery, Alabama’s fourth most populous county, by preventing officials from accessing various operating systems, files and websites, the newspaper reported.

County officials initially tried to recover the data from backup files but relented after encountering unrelated technical issues and voted against the clock Friday to take “all necessary steps” needed to regain access, including releasing enough funds to cover all costs associated with obtaining 9 Bitcoin, or about $32,000, according to the Advertiser.

“You don’t think about these things till they happen,” Elton Dean, chairman of the Montgomery County commission, told the Advertiser. “When you are talking about losing about $5 million worth of files, that’s kind of like an emergency situation.”

The county paid half the ransom on Saturday and the other half on Sunday, and regained access to some of their data after each of the payments went through, the report said.

The FBI advises victims against paying cybercriminals to recover data held hostage, but its warnings have hardly hurt the wallets of keyboard extortionists. The bureau’s cybercrime office previously said it received 2,673 complaints involving ransomware in 2016 totaling over $2.4 million in losses, and a recent report published by Datto, a Connecticut-based security firm, said that ransomware earned cybercriminals more than $301 million last year worldwide.

Commissioners said the FBI is investigating the Montgomery County hack but the bureau declined to confirm whether it is taking action, the Advertiser reported.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Probate Office and County Commission were all affected by the ransomware attack, as were government services including vehicle registrations and the issuing of marriage licenses, the report said.

The county’s chief information technology officer initially said that no personal information was compromised by the hack, but on Monday he said that he couldn’t rule it out, WSFA reported.

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