Alabama Officials Pay Ransom To Hackers To Recover Data -- First State Government To Do So

Hackers have officially been able to collect ransom money from a US State government.

Does this set a new precedent that US government officials will do the same if their data is breached?

After hackers targeted one of the largest counties in Alabama with a ransomware attack last week, officials in Montgomery County were forced to pay a ransom of $37,000 worth of Bitcoin to unlock nearly 70 terabytes of data.

The county was given one week to pay the ransom or nearly 70 terabytes of data could be erased from their servers, which had been locked by the ransomware attack, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. County Commission Chairman Elton Dean said that the files were valued at $5 million and called the attack an “emergency situation.”

(Related: Highly Placed NSA Whistleblower: Russian ‘Hack’ of DNC Server an ‘Outright Lie’)

Montgomery County spokeswoman Hannah Hawk told RT America that county officials were forced to pay hackers nine Bitcoin in order to access the data.

The ransom was paid on Friday, after the Montgomery County Commission held an emergency meeting to authorize the funds to pay the ransom. At the time, nine Bitcoin was valued at more than $37,000 according to WSFA.

Montgomery Advertiser reported:

With the erasure of millions of pieces of data imminent, Montgomery County officials were forced to pay a ransom to hackers.

Over the weekend, Montgomery County paid between $40,000 and $50,000 to obtain 9 bitcoins, an online currency not recognized by any government or bank, to pay off hackers that had stolen county data last week.

The county was given seven days to pay or have its data erased. With time running low, officials opted to pay the hackers half of the money Saturday and the rest Sunday, receiving a chunk of data each time.

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

Fox Reported:

Security expert and Datto CEO Austin McChord told FOX Business last week that while small businesses are targeted every single day by ransomware, paying the ransom renders an entity more likely to get hit again.

Originally, the county attempted to recover its data from backup files, Lou Ialacci, Montgomery county’s chief information technology officer, said last week. But the nearly 70 terabytes of data proved difficult to retrieve from the county’s backup trove, he said, because of difficulties unrelated to the hack.

The FBI and some other law enforcement agencies warn against paying off ransoms because it encourages similar acts. There have also been several cases where the ransom is paid, and the data is never returned.

(Related: “Blackout” Hackers Gain Direct Access to U.S. Power Grid Controls)

But Montgomery officials did pay, joining the thousands of people and businesses that pony up ransom money every year. In 2016, there were about 4,000 attacks every day. And in the first three months of last year, more than $209 million in ransomware payments had been made.

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