One of North Carolina’s largest counties was attacked by a hacker who froze county servers and is demanding ransom.
A report issued by Mecklenburg County Manager, Dena Diorio revealed that officials face a deadline of 1 p.m. Wednesday to decide whether to pay a ransom of two bitcoin or more than $23,000.
The County Manager revealed that county electronic files have essentially been frozen after the attack that started when a county employee opened an email attachment carrying malicious software.
Mecklenburg County has more than 1 million residents including North Carolina's largest city, Charlotte, though that municipality appears not to have been directly affected by the hack. A statement was released by the city on Wednesday indicating that its separate computer systems have not been affected and that it has severed direct connections to county computers.
According to Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anjanette Flowers Grube, deputies are manually processing suspects who have been arrested because its computer system was affected. The sheriff also announced that the county jail's website wasn't displaying inmate search information that's normally easily accessible.
However, Flowers Grube revealed that the problems don't extend to processing emergency calls, which is handled by the city of Charlotte. City fire and police officials didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
A statement was also issued by the county on Twitter Wednesday asking residents to contact county offices before visiting to see whether they are offering services. Diorio said, for example, that the county's code enforcement office would have to rely on paper records until the outage is fixed because employees there can't access the electronic files they normally rely on.
The county has not yet ruled out paying the ransom, but they understood that the move could be risky.
"If you pay the bitcoin, there is always a risk they won't give you the encryption key," she told reporters.
She said the hacker didn't gain access to protected information on people's credit card data, health information or social security numbers.