City of Florence out nearly $300,000 after ransomware hack

City of Florence
City of Florence(Source: WAFF)
Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 9:55 AM CDT
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FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - A cyber attack on the city of Florence’s computer network system has cost the city nearly $300,000.

The money will be paid to hackers in bitcoin and will come from the city’s insurance fund, according to our news partners at the Times Daily.

This all began on May 26th, when city officials were warned about an impending threat. But, it was already too late. “We began taking every precaution we could possibly take, and then on June 5 it actually hit us,” Mayor Steve Holt said. “It appears they may have been in our system since early May – over a month going through our system.”

The hackers now have possession of personal information on city employees and customers. It’s not clear how much they actually possess.

Florence city leaders agreed to work with a cyber security firm called Arete Advisors shortly after getting the warning. They’ve recommended paying the ransom. Arete told the council the hackers that will receive the ransom have a reputation for not attacking a system or releasing information any longer once ransom is paid. They said the organization survives on that reputation, because if it does not live up to its end of the deal, the next entity it attacks would be less likely to pay. The idea didn’t sit well with councilman David Bradley, but ultimately he agreed the experts had a point. “Everything in my being says to not negotiate with anyone if it’s my personal information,” Councilman David Bradley said. “But where I’m coming from is that I don’t feel like it’s my personal information. I feel like it’s everybody else’s.”

Mayor Holt said thus far it appears everything is secure but the city does not want to take chances since it involves information about other people such as employees and the public.

“It’s a roll of the dice for us to say ‘nope we’re not doing that,’ and if they actually have our information in their possession they can send it publicly,” Mayor Holt said. “This unfortunately is a response on our part to pay to make sure they delete it.”

The mayor said he has been told two other north Alabama cities were attacked at around the same time when Florence was hit. A release from the city adds that it’s cooperating with law enforcement who are attempting to track down the hackers.

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