Hacker Ransom Demands From Cities Are Growing

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Weeks after the insurer of Lake City, Fl., paid a $460,000 ransom, the city has not recovered all of its files from a cyberattack. There is a possibility that thousands of pages of documents that had been painstakingly digitized will have to be scanned manually, the New York Times reports. More than 100 years’ worth of municipal records have been locked in cyberspace for nearly a month. At least three Florida cities have been victims of recent ransomware attacks, after intrusions on larger cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Baltimore. What sets the latest attacks apart is the stunning size of their ransom demands. Riviera Beach, Fl., last month agreed to pay more than $600,000, several times what was asked of Baltimore, which did not have insurance and did not pay. This year Jackson County, Ga., paid $400,000.

Atlanta’s mayor says an attack last year, when the city refused to pay $51,000 in extortion demands, has so far cost the city $7.2 million. Cyberattackers have found a ripe target: small governments with weak computer protections and strong insurance policies. The payments keep coming even as the FBI says they might  encourage more attacks. “It is quite profitable for the actors to conduct these sorts of attacks on victims,” said FBI agent Adam Lawson. “At the end of the day, people are paying the ransoms.” The FBI received nearly 1,500 ransomware reports last year. An Illinois computer programmer who offers free help decrypting ransomware said the automated website he designed, ID Ransomware, receives 1,500 help requests daily. Hackers are seeking “that sweet spot: What is enough someone will consider paying but not so much that they’ll say, ‘Forget that. It’s easier to rebuild,’ ” said Mark Orlando of Raytheon Intelligence Information and Services. “We have reached a new high-water mark as to what is getting paid out.”

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