Hackers Shut Down North Carolina County, Demand Ransom

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio talked to reporters Wednesday about this week's hacker attack on county servers

The hackers originally gave officials until 1 p.m. Wednesday to pay two Bitcoin in exchange for an encryption key that would release the files. The state's largest city issued a statement that its separate computer systems have not been affected and that it severed direct connections to county computers.

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

Population numbers for Mecklenburg County jails are expected to rise, the county said on its website, because the inmate releases have to be handled manually and the entire process is significantly slowed down.

Diorio said the county decided not to pay after consulting cyber security experts.

There's no evidence Mecklenburg County was specifically targeted, county Public Information Director Danny Diehl said - but for obvious reasons, the decision of whether or not to pay the hackers was a complicated one. After the attack, the county disconnected most computer applications. Paying the ransom can often be cheaper than other ways of recovering the data. This included county email, printers and copy machines.

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"Once you're in that situation, you really have no good option, so a lot of people and companies end up paying", he said.

Diorio said all servers were operating, but information on scheduled medical trips by some 300 patients were lost and a domestic violence hotline was sending calls directly to voicemail. Recurring appointments that account for most of the rides are less of a problem than those for patients who make one-time reservations. Diorio said, for example, that the county's code enforcement office would have to rely on paper records until the outage is fixed because employees there can't access the electronic files they normally rely on. The attachment contained a "worm" that began encrypting the county's files.

During a press conference Wednesday, Diorio reiterated that no personal information of county workers or customers was compromised by the hackers, which has affected 48 of 500 servers.

The county said the systems that will be restored first will be those relating to the divisions of health and human services, courts and land use and environmental services. But without getting the compromised servers unlocked, the county will have to rebuild significant parts of the system.

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