NC county reveals ransomware hackers demanded $670k to unfreeze computer network

North Carolina

PITTSBORO, N.C. (WNCN) — Chatham County officials first became aware their computer systems had been breached by hackers in Oct. 2020 when they received a ransom note from hackers, but the county manager says paying them was never an option.

“Paying the ransom just encourages this type of behavior,” said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne.

According to LaMontagne the group known as Dopplepaymer demanded 50 Bitcoin for the key to the encrypted files.

“I can understand why some corporate entities might see the advantage to paying a ransom, but for us it just really wasn’t an option,” said LaMontagne.

At the time that demand would’ve cost Chatham County just over $670,000, which due to the rise in Bitcoin prices is worth around $2.5 million today.

“If we paid the ransom they would unencrypt our files,” said LaMontagne.  “All of the remnants of the software that they put in our system is still there. If we don’t wipe everything and clean it, it’s still there.”

LaMontagne says he knew attacks like this were all but inevitable, and that’s why the county has taken steps to try and insulate itself from these types of phishing hacks.

“About two years ago we got cyber insurance, and it helps pay for recovery and payment for recovery,” said LaMontagne.

While it’s unclear how much that insurance cost taxpayers LaMontagne says it’s already paying off.

“We started rebuilding all of our business systems,” said LaMontagne.  “We had to wipe all of our servers. We’re nearly complete now, and most of our services are back fully functional.”

Lamontagne says everyone impacted by the breach will be contacted by the county, but he’s encouraging everyone to take matters into their own hands by freezing their credit.

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