Hackers from Eastern Europe are targeting law enforcement agencies nationwide with so-called “ransomware” viruses. This malicious software locks up computer files and demands payment in exchange for unlocking them.
Hackers nearly always demand Bitcoins. Most attacks that have disabled police department computers have sought “just a few hundred dollars.” So, while cops say they generally don’t pay ransoms, it’s very tempting for them to just fork over the $300 and be done with it.
“My initial reaction was ‘No way!” said Sheriff Todd Brackett of Lincoln County, Maine. His department’s system was frozen last spring and after “48 long hours,” Brackett reluctantly paid, NBC reported.
“There are a lot of other law enforcement agencies out there that have been affected by this…that don’t want their names out there,” said Jeff McCliss, a Dickson County, Tennessee-based detective whose department paid a $622 ransom in Bitcoins.
These types of crimes on all US targets are soaring – officials say -and in just the first 3 months of 2016, attacks “increased tenfold over the total entire previous year.”
Experts say police computers are especially vulnerable to ransomware, because many small departments have ‘ancient’ systems.
One police chief told NBC that when his department’s computers were attacked last year, they were running on DOS, an outdated system that dates back to the early 1980s.
Hackers have hit departments in at least seven states since 2013. According to NBC News, last year, five police and sheriff’s departments in Maine were locked out of their records management systems by hackers demanding ransoms.
Experts say ransomware attacks can have a potentially devastating impact on a municipality’s criminal justice system. So far it appears, in most of the ransomware cases, evidence has not been breached or tainted.
“If the computer is simply held hostage but there is no evidence that any files have been altered, there will be no problem,” said Steven Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor. “If there is evidence that files have been altered, that is a problem,” he said.
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