Officials Say County Will Not Pay Ransomware Criminals $23K To Unlock Website

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Mecklenburg County Manager Dena R. Diorio announced this afternoon that the County will not pay ransomware criminals $23,000 to unlock many of the County’s applications that have been frozen since Monday.

“I am confident that our backup data is secure and we have the resources to fix this situation ourselves,” said Diorio. “It will take time, but with patience and hard work, all of our systems will be back up and running as soon as possible.”

Fixing the problem will require using backup data available prior to the incident to rebuild the applications from scratch. Affected systems will be prioritized with those affecting Health and Human Services, the Court system and Land Use and Environmental Services first.

All County offices remain open and departments have implemented alternative processes where necessary to continue serving customers in the interim.

Diorio says the decision came after consulting multiple experts in the cyber security field and realizing that the time difference to do it ourselves will not be significantly different.

“It was going to take almost as long to fix the system after paying the ransom as it does to fix it ourselves,” she said. “And there was no guarantee that paying the criminals was a sure fix.”

The County continues to ask that all residents and employees remain patient and understanding. If you have business with the County, please call ahead to determine if the service has been impacted.

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Officials say Mecklenburg County is open for business but expect delays due to limited access to County systems.

Departments throughout the county have implemented paper processes, among other solutions to continue serving customers. Officials say at this time there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to believe personal, customer, or employee data and information has been compromised.

Multiple options are currently being considered for how to resolve the situation, and official say they are consulting with federal, state, and private stakeholders, as well as the FBI and Secret Service.

Anyone who has business with the County is asked to call ahead to the department or service to determine if the service has been impacted.

Below are a few systems the County says are not available:

HUMAN RESOURCES

  • Applicants cannot apply for vacant positions.

TAX OFFICE

  • Property tax payments cannot be made at the Wilkinson Boulevard location.
  • Tax records and payment information cannot be accessed online or by telephone.
  • All online services, including online payment options, are not available.
  • Payments made by mail will not be posted until tax systems are available.
  • Once tax systems are available, payments received by mail and in person will be posted in the order received resulting in a delay in checks being cashed.
  • Real estate and personal property tax payments can be made in person at Walton Plaza if the taxpayer presents the bill(s) with payment. We do not have the ability to look up bills for the taxpayers to pay.
  • Gross receipts tax payments can be made in person at the Hal Marshall Center if the taxpayer presents the completed tax return(s) with payment. We do not have the ability to look-up information for taxpayers.
  • Payments must be made with a check, money order, or cash.  Credit and debit card payments cannot be accepted.

REGISTER OF DEEDS

  • All computers used to complete marriage applications, assumed business names research and filing, and record research are not operational.
  • Many professionals that frequent the ROD for research have prepaid for copies, they will be unable to access those funds for those services as well.

LUESA

  • Code and Storm Water Services cannot review plans or issue new permits.
  • GIS cannot provide addressing and other services.
  • Air Quality services for asbestos reviews, etc. cannot be performed until the system is up.
  • Code enforcement inspection process will be slowed due to paper process.

ASSESSOR’S OFFICE

  • County Assessor’s Office reports AssessPro (The Real Property appraisal system), NCPTS (the personal property appraisal system and the billing and collection system) are down.
  • Polaris and Tax Bill look up county web links are down

PARK AND RECREATION

  • Online reservations are down.

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

  • Transportation Message:
    • If you have made a transportation reservation through DSS/MTS scheduling, please call Customer Connection at 704-336-4547 to confirm your transportation.  This includes reservations made for bus passes and vendor transportation for trips scheduled through Dec. 11, 2017.

CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT

  • Please call your agent to see if services are available.

FINANCE

  • Automated payments, invoicing, procurement, etc. This means no Electronic funds transfers, processing of procurement requests in the system, or other similar transactions at this time.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office also released the following statement regarding Meck County courts:

“Jury service is a manual service right now and fine collection can collect fines but can not create payment plans. Courtrooms are running and we are a state-run system.” 

Original Story

CHARLOTTE, NC –Mecklenburg County officials say a county-wide computer system outage is the result of a ransomware attack.

The attack started early Tuesday when an employee opened an email infected with the virus. That virus then took over the county’s computer system, and demanded $23,000 for it to be released.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio says the county could try to fix the problem themselves, but it may cost more than the hackers’ ransom. Diorio says the hackers have given the county until 1pm Wednesday to respond.

In response to the attack, all county-wide Information Technology Services (ITS) systems have been shut down until further notice.

The shutdown affects email, printing and other county applications, including the ability to conduct business at most County offices. Officials say a list of all computer services impacted should be available by tomorrow. Until then, the City Manager says some things will just have to be done on paper.

Each County department has activated its Continuity Of Operations Plan, which is designed to address situations like this. Anyone planning to go to a County office to conduct business should contact the office prior to going to ensure you can be served.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.