Young convinces U.S. mayors not to pay ransoms to hackers

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last month passed a resolution put forth by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young calling on city leaders not to pay hackers who cripple municipal computer networks, Young’s office announced today.

Baltimore was targeted by such in attack in May and is still working to regain a number of online operations, including the ability to pay water bills through the city’s web interface. But from the start, officials have maintained they would not pay the ransom of 13 bitcoins–roughly $161,000 according to today’s exchange rates–to recover city networks, saying it would encourage similar attacks.

Instead, they’ve spent $10 million recovering systems and upgrading IT security. But payment of the ransom does not provide any guarantees. A story in The New York Times on Sunday highlighted the city of Lake City, Florida, where city leaders paid $460,000 after hackers hijacked the city’s computer system. Weeks after paying, the city of 12,000 still has not recovered all its files.

In a statement, Young echoed the importance of not encouraging similar attacks, saying that “[p]aying ransoms only gives incentive for more people to engage in this type of illegal behavior.”

According to the text of the resolution, government systems in 170 different states, counties and cities have been infiltrated by hackers since 2013, with 22 attacks happening in 2019 alone.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman was a co-sponsor of the resolution. Young said at his weekly press briefing today that he approached her about it.

Per The Nevada Independent, a 2018 study found Las Vegas was particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to a lack of state funding and the millions of tourists who come to town and use unprotected public WiFi networks in casinos, hotels and restaurants.

Last week, Baltimore officials announced the city had restored the ability to pay property taxes and tickets for parking and moving violations online, but it’s still not clear when residents will be able to pay water bills online. City Councilman Eric Costello (11th District) has estimated it would happen some time in August.

No fines will be assessed while the system remains down.

Brandon Weigel

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