Mecklenburg County, North Carolina is the state’s most populated county with over one million residents, and is home to its biggest city, Charlotte. Earlier this week, the county’s government suffered a crippling cyberattack that they’re still recovering from after malware wreaked havoc on computer systems in Charlotte and the surrounding region.
Government operations throughout the county were distorted and barely functioning after being infected with ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts an affected machine’s content and holds them hostage unless the cybercriminals get paid a sum of money.
The incident began when a county employee opened an email containing a malicious attachment that turned out to be a programming worm, which quickly spread through the computer system. Forty eight out of 500 computers have been affected by the malware, which has stifled and even halted operations of county agencies like the tax office, parks and recreation department, and human resources office (just to name a few).
After consulting with security experts, Mecklenburg County officials opted not to pay the $23,000 ransom by the Wednesday afternoon deadline, and are rebuilding their systems using backup copies instead.
Another reason that factored in the county’s decision to forgo paying the ransom was realizing it would take just as long to fix their systems if they paid the ransom, than doing so on their own. In addition, even if the county paid the $23,000 ransom, there was still no guarantee the cybercriminals would retract the malware.
While county officials are confident that their backup data is secure and they possess the resources to rectify the situation, the cyberattack forced many county employees to abandon electric systems and rely on paper records.
The FBI is aware and monitoring the ongoing situation, while Mecklenburg County hired two cybersecurity firms to evaluate the attack. The state of North Carolina’s Chief Information Officer and Secretary of Public Safety are even offering assistance in the situation.
Cybercriminals are projected to make around $2 billion in 2017 off ransomware payments. This method of cybercrime has increased dramatically over the last five years, and will continue to be utilized as long as cybercriminals can make a profit off this malicious practice.
Filed Under: Cybersecurity, M2M (machine to machine)