Careless Licking Gets A Nasty Ransomware Phishing Infection: 1,000+ Machines Down

More than 1,000 government computer systems shut down. A county in Ohio, US, has had to shut down its entire IT infrastructure due to a ransomware infection. County Auditor Mike Smith found a bright side on an otherwise gloomy day.  "Apparently, our clock still works."

Licking County Ransomware Infection

Tony Davino, center, a 911 shift leader at the Regional 911 Center in Newark, trains Jenna Lester, a dispatcher in training, Wednesday afternoon despite the loss of multiple computer services due to a ransomware infection. Law enforcement was hit particularly hard with 911 stations displaying blank screens seen in the background. (Photo: Michael Lehmkuhle/The Advocate)

Licking county has turned off all phones and computers on its government network in order to stop the spread of malware that had been locking down infected PCs and demanding payments.

Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb would not disclose the amount of the ransom demand, nor if it would be paid. He said they are taking the advice of cyber-security experts and law enforcement.

According to local news station WBNS,  [VIDEO] the move was made Tuesday evening when officials found that more than one thousand county PCs had already been infected with the ransomware.

All county offices remain open for people walking in and doing business the old fashioned way using pen and paper forms, and the 911 call center and dispatch continues to operate in "manual mode." The county treasurer's office is unable to process checks, but is still accepting payments for property taxes.

Sean Grady, director of the Licking County Emergency Management Agency and Regional 911 Center, did not expect an immediate resolution of the problem. "It's slower than we'd like," Grady said. "It takes us back 25 years in how we dispatch. We ask more detailed questions."

The news station reports that the outage is expected to continue through the week as county staff work to scrub the malware from the infected machines. The FBI has also been called in to assist.

A Newark Advocate article said: "The cyber crimes vary in how they scam individuals and governments, but typically involve an email – a practice known as ‘phishing’ – that contains either a link or an attachment that, when opened, infects computers or entices the recipient to share account information and passwords. Some attachments launch viruses that essentially take data hostage until a ransom is paid."

"We don't believe we were specifically targeted," Tim Bubb said. "Clearly, it's designed to make money for somebody. It was just our unlucky day. It was something created to cause havoc." 

Phishing with spoofed email addresses is the number one ransomware attack vector, and is also called CEO Fraud. Stepping careless employees through new-school security awareness training which includes frequent simulated phishing attacks can prevent incidents like this. 

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Topics: Phishing, Ransomware

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