Florida city to pay €500k to hackers who seized its computer system

A Florida city has agreed to pay a ransom demand of $600,000 (€531,128) to hackers who took over its computer system.

The Riviera Beach city council voted unanimously this week to pay the hackers, believing the Palm Beach suburb had no choice if it wanted to retrieve its records, which the hackers encrypted.

The council already voted to spend almost $1m (€892,922) on new computers and hardware after hackers captured the city’s system three weeks ago.

The incident is the latest in thousands of attacks worldwide aimed at extorting money from governments and businesses.

The hackers apparently got into the city’s system when an employee clicked on an email link that allowed them to upload malware.

Along with the encrypted records, the city suffered numerous problems, including a disabled email system, employees and vendors being paid by cheque rather than direct deposit, and emergency dispatchers being unable to enter calls into the computer.

The city said there was no delay in response time.

Spokeswoman Rose Anne Brown said the authority has been working with outside security consultants, who recommended the ransom be paid.

She conceded there are no guarantees that once the hackers receive the money, they will release the records.

The payment is being covered by insurance.

The FBI said on its website that it “doesn’t support” paying off hackers, but Riviera Beach is not alone: many government agencies and businesses also pay ransom demands.

Ms Brown said the authority is relying on consultants’ advice.

The hackers demanded payment in the cryptocurrency bitcoin. While it is possible to trace bitcoins as they are spent, the owners of the accounts are not necessarily known, making it a favoured payment method in ransomware attacks.

Numerous governments and businesses have been hit in the United States and worldwide in recent years.

Baltimore refused to pay hackers $76,000 after an attack last month. The US government indicted two Iranians last year for allegedly unleashing more than 200 ransomware attacks, including against the cities of Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey.

The men, who have not been arrested, received more than $6m in payments and caused $30m in damage to computer systems, federal prosecutors have said.

The US last year also accused a North Korean programmer of committing the “WannaCry” attack that infected government, bank, factory and hospital computers in 150 countries. He is also believed to have stolen $81m from a Bangladesh bank. He also remains in his home country.

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