65 of any currency doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when you are dealing in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, it adds up quick. One city on Florida’s Atlantic coast is finding that out the hard way after getting hit with a ransomware that stymied the city of 35,000 government’s ability to function. Let’s take a look at the situation that made the city’s leaders agree to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to scammers.
A few weeks ago, an unwitting employee of the city of Riviera Beach, a small city just up the coast from West Palm Beach, clicked on a file that wasn’t supposed to be clicked on and it ended up locking large portions of their municipal computing infrastructure. When the initial report came to the City Council, they decided it was high time that they updated their computers and approved to spend nearly $1 million to update all municipal computers. Only then were they told that new hardware is all well and good, but paying to upgrade their computers isn’t going to get their access to data back.
The only way that was going to happen is by giving over to the hackers demands. They were simple: produce 65 Bitcoin, and the files will be decrypted. Since after the ransomware was deployed, the city email system was unavailable and its 911 dispatchers didn’t have access to computing systems that are necessary for prompt emergency response, the city council acted quickly as to avoid a long, drawn-out situation that could potentially cost the city millions.
Ransomware victims: Atlanta, GA; Newark, NJ; and Sarasota, FL, had been examples of cities that refused to pay ransoms only to see costs of recovery soar. Currently, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Secret Service are all working on the case.
Typically, we’ve advised ransomware victims not to pay the ransom, since it provides the hackers the resources they need to continue conducting acts of cybercrime. It’s been mentioned repeatedly by IT professionals and cybercrime experts that there is no guarantee that hackers will stay true to their word and decrypt the files once the ransom has been paid.