TROUP COUNTY, Ga — The Troup County government says international hackers demanded thousands in ransom money after they made their way into the government’s servers Friday.
The County Manager, Tod Tentler says the hackers appear to have been from Eastern Europe. They planted a virus in the local government server, encrypting the files. Tentler says every computer was locked and a warning message appeared on every screen demanding 24 Bitcoins in exchange for the key to unlock the files. Bitcoins are virtual dollars users can redeem on the dark net. Each coin is worth about $1200.
The county became aware of the hack early Friday morning when the 911 center went down. Soon after, each department in the county fell victim to the intentional hack.
“Basically, 1 A.M. Friday morning straight through the weekend, our IT Department has seven or eight people, Tentler said. “We contract with the City of Lagrange to do our IT. They have been working 20 hours days trying to get us back up and running. They’ve worked really hard. We’ve been in contact with our forensic people. We’ve been in contact with law enforcement. So, we’re trying to do everything we can to get back up and running.”
The manager says instead of paying a ransom worth more than $28,000, the government turned its servers over to its insurance company to get rid of the “ransom-ware”.
Tentler said the county has purchased software that they hope will prevent this from happening in the future.
“We can run everything we need to run with the county right now,” Tentler said. “However, we are doing a really diligent job of making sure when we put these computers back up and running that they are clean and there is no chance of another virus being put on as much as we can. We are taking very slow, precautionary steps to make sure that happens.”
One of the department’s affected by the hack was the Troup County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff James Woodruff said when the hack went into place, their booking process went down, email systems were down and more. Sheriff Woodruff said that the FBI out of Atlanta has been called in to help with this case.
Sheriff Woodruff said that it was a rough weekend, but they are at 35% now with their computers, and he hopes they will be back at full strength by next week at the latest. While computers were down, they had to do incident reports on paper.
“I would have never imagined that anybody would have hacked county government,” Sheriff Woodruff said. “First of all, what do we have that you want? What information are you trying to gather? Most everything we do is open record. You can get any report that you want. So, why would you want to hack our files to seal it so we couldn’t operate? It didn’t make any sense to me.”
Hutchinson Traylor Insurance Company has since removed the virus safely and retrieved the files. The Troup County Government IT department is still working around the clock to get more than 400 computers back online.