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NC county weighs paying cyber hackers $26K ransom for servers held hostage

06 December 2017

A hacker is holding files on the Mecklenburg County server for ransom, according to WSOC-TV.

Mike Collins gets an update from Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio on how the county is handling the attack and what's next for the retrieval of information. She said the county has until 1 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to pay ransom.

"We don't believe we were targeted", Diorio told the station.

Cyber experts believe the hackers operated from Iran or Ukraine and infected the servers with a new strain of ransomware known as LockCrypt, she said.

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She says it's her call whether to pay them and she's debating doing that.

County officials said Tuesday afternoon that because of the outage, all countywide Information Technology Services systems will be shut down until further notice.

If you're planning on heading to a county office for business purposes, you need to contact the office ahead of time to make sure you can be helped, county officials said. On Wednesday, Diorio expects to release a list of services that are unavailable because of the attack.

Federal and local authorities were not involved in the investigation Tuesday night. On the other hand, hackers may not handover the key to unlock the files and come back for more money. "There's also the chance if they think you'll pay, they may try to get you to come back again".

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WSOC reporter Joe Bruno tweeted that it is unclear where the attack originated, but the hackers are in a time zone seven hours ahead of Charlotte, which would include Russian Federation, where cybercrime is frequently based. Is it actually cheaper to pay the hackers off to once again have access to critical files? While paying the ransom may be the only way to obtain the decryption key, there is no guarantee the hackers will honor their commitment and provide the key.

"Absolutely not. If they can make us pay now for that, they'll make us pay for something later", says Scarborough.

Chairwoman of the Board Ella Scarborough disagrees and thinks the county shouldn't engage in the talks.

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NC county weighs paying cyber hackers $26K ransom for servers held hostage