Login | May 25, 2018

Ohio county government forced to shut down by hackers

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 17, 2017

Licking County, a rural Ohio county just east of Columbus, was victimized by a ransomware attack in late January, and was forced to shut down its offices and phone systems until the situation could be resolved.

Although lightly populated, Licking County is the state’s third-largest by land area.

Ransomware, for those who haven’t been following the topic, is a computer virus capable of shutting down a computer system and/or deleting data if a sum of money is not paid to the “kidnappers.” The virus encrypts files and will not deliver the encryption key until the ransom is paid. The victim is generally left with two options: pay the ransom, or reconstitute the data through a quality backup system.

Ransomware, which has affected business, governments, police departments, and even hospitals and libraries, has caused enough damage that Ohio’s auditor issued a warning about the problem a few months ago. The theft technique itself was detected beginning about two years ago, and is now considered the most problematic computer virus in the world for private industry and individuals.

Licking County officials shut down the county’s systems when they discovered that over 1000 computers had been affected by the ransomware.

The county’s 911 system had to operate in “manual mode,” and police offices were affected. The county’s physical offices remained open and staffed, but employees were not able to access their phones or computer networks for over a week. All transactions during that time had to be processed by hand, and people who wanted to do business with the county had to go down to the offices in person.

This attack followed a similar October attack against the voting database in Henry County, when over 17,000 personal records were compromised.

Licking County did not disclose the amount or form of the ransom demand, although these demands are coming increasingly in Bitcoins.

The county also did not pay the ransom, and was back up and running in a few days. County officials credited the quick response of the IT team, and an extensive backup system, for what amounts to a victory against these cybercriminals.