A number of police departments across Maine were affected by the attacks, with one office even forced to pay a Bitcoin ransom to end a hostage situation. A hacker infected computers at Lincoln County sheriff’s office with a kind of malware known as “ransomware,” which effectively held police records hostage by locking the system, writes Michael Green for the National Monitor.
Bitcoin ransom begrudgingly paid
It is thought that the system became infected when a user downloaded the malware “megacode” by accident. Not only did the computer system in that particular sheriff’s office become infected, the virus spread across the intranet used by four towns and the county authorities, encrypting all of the police records contained on the network.
As panic spread, a hacker who claimed responsibility for writing and releasing the malicious code contacted the sheriff’s department and demanded around $300 worth of Bitcoin in order to release the files. Once he had the bitcoins in his account, the unidentified hacker sent a special code which enabled the police to release the files from the virtual kidnapper and restore them to the system.
The ransom payment did not sit well with the police force, but it was decided that “we needed our programs to get back online,” said Damariscotta Police Chief Ron Young. “That was a choice we all discussed and took to get back on line to get our information.”
Attempts to identify hacker unsuccessful
Despite the FBI being able to trace the Bitcoin payment to a Swiss bank account, they were unable to identify the hacker. Ransomeware attacks are becoming more and more common, and it has been noted that the hackers often operate from Russia. It must be emphasized that no one should click on suspicious links in an email, or download files from an unknown source.
Although certain sections of the tech community are pushing for the wider acceptance of Bitcoin as an alternative currency, there remains a lot of work to be done to remove the perception that it is linked to hackers and cyber crime. PayPal announced that its merchants will now be able to accept payment in Bitcoin, but the security of Bitcoin exchanges remains a concern and the cryptocurrency remains volatile.