Maryland Congress members ask FBI for ransomware briefing

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Photo by Christopher Sessums, via Flickr

We’re now past the two-week mark of city computer networks sitting hobbled by a ransomware attack, and Maryland’s federal lawmakers are keen on getting some answers from federal authorities investigating the hacking.

Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Reps. Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes this morning penned a letter about the attack to FBI Director Christopher Wray and U.S. Secret Service Director James Murray. While thanking them for their agencies’ help, the congressmen also asked for a briefing–as well as a second classified briefing, if necessary–once the investigation and any subsequent probes are complete.

The letter enumerates half a dozen questions seeking major details that remain, at least publicly, elusive: Who are the individuals and groups responsible? How did they infiltrate municipal computer networks? What resources have the feds provided to the city to regain access to its systems, and what federal resources can be used to fend off future attacks?

It also asks what steps federal investigators took in other cities that suffered similar attacks, and if Congress could set aside funding or other resources to help with such attacks around the country in the future.

The full letter can be read here.

The FBI also recently assisted the City of Greenville, North Carolina, after it was hit by the same Robbinhood software as Baltimore this spring, and the City of Atlanta, which authorities found had been infiltrated by SamSam ransomware for roughly three years.

In Baltimore, the attacks have left residents unable to pay their bills online, halted real estate transactions during one of the busiest times of the year for home sales—the congressmen noted it delayed “at least 1,500 pending home sales”—locked city employees out of their computers and other disruptions.

City agencies have been forced to get creative, with agencies setting up new email accounts to do their jobs and relying more on social media for announcements, since city websites can’t be updated. To address that homes-sales issue, the city also rolled out a manual workaround to facilitate the crucial step of checking liens on properties in home sales.

Officials haven’t offered much of a timeline for when it all may be over or any details on the potential source of the attack–or even which outside firms are helping.

“You may see partial services beginning to restore within a matter of weeks, while some of our more intricate systems may take months in the recovery process,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement Friday while announcing the real estate sales fix.

Young’s deputy chief of staff, Sheryl Goldstein, told The Sun yesterday officials plan to “slowly start bringing things back online” to ensure systems are secure.

She also detailed that staff have been split into a recovery team and a forensic team, and said “every machine that was potentially impacted and every server that was potentially impacted has to be assessed” to identify the source of the hacking.

Ethan McLeod
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