A hacker is holding Atlanta city government systems hostage with a ransomware attack that infected its computers on Thursday.

The attack managed to encrypt some of the city’s data and disrupt access to online systems that manage bill paying and court records, local officials said in a press conference.

SecurityWatch

“We have been working diligently all day long to try and come to some type of resolution,” said Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Apparently, the hacker is demanding the city pay $51,000 to unlock all the infected systems or $6,800 per unit, according to local news channel 11Alive. City officials first received the hacker’s ransom note early Thursday morning amid the system outages, which continue to persist.

Atlanta’s mayor declined to say whether the city will pay off the hacker. However, officials are working with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, Microsoft and Cisco to address the attack.

Ransomware strikes usually by encrypting a computer’s data and then threatening to delete it, unless the victim pays up. But city officials are also investigating if Thursday’s attack managed to steal any sensitive data from employees or local residents.

“All of us our subject to this attack,” Atlanta’s mayor said. “Many of us pays our bills online, we have direct deposit. So go online and check your bank statements.”

The incident is another example of ransomware’s dangers. Cybercriminals have also targeted schools and hospitals with a variety of ransomware strains that can spread over a network and quickly infect many systems.

It isn’t clear how Atlanta’s city government was attacked. But 11Alive reported that the ransomware may resemble a strain known as SamSam, which is known to infect by exploiting known vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems like web-based applications.

Should Atlanta give in and pay the hacker? The FBI and many security experts say no. One reason is because a hacker can simply take the money and walk away, without freeing the computer. Paying hackers also incentivizes them to strike again.

PCMag has tips for enterprises on how you can guard from ransomware infections. We’ve also reviewed antivirus software that can stop them too.

In some good news, the security community has come up with free solutions that can decrypt certain ransomware infections.





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