Employees first noticed that government computers, websites and even email addresses had stopped functioning sometime on March 1. While fortunately 911 emergency calls were still operational, every internet connected device was inoperable and it is possible that the hackers were able to steal police and county records, too.
“Everything we have is down,” Sherriff Janis Mangum told StateScoop. “[But] we’ve continued to function. It’s just more difficult.”
After a few days of what was undoubtedly chaos, the county’s technology department requested that the Sherriff contact the FBI and hire a professional cybersecurity team. “In dealing with the FBI and cybersecurity experts, this is one of the most sophisticated attacks they have ever seen in the US,” Jackson County manager Keven Poe told Online Athens.
On Friday, the decision was made to pay up. The hired cybersecurity team negotiated with the hackers, and agreed to pay about 100 bitcoins, or $400,000. According to Poe, it was simply the cheapest and safest route forward.
The FBI believes the ransomware might be a new strain of the impenetrable Ryuk, leaving hardware replacement as the only way to get the computers back online without paying the ransom. But that definitely wasn’t appealing. “We could have literally been down months and months and spent as much as or more money getting our system rebuilt,” Poe said.
Atlanta was hit with a similar attack last year but refused to pay the ransom. Despite initial estimates that replacing the computer systems would cost $2.6 million, it took $17 million. Worse though, is the fact that Jackson and Atlanta are just the tip of the iceberg, with counties in North Carolina, Washington, Ohio and Alaska and more all being hit in the last two years.