In a world rocked by hackers, trolls and online evildoers of all stripes, the good people of the internet have long looked for a hero who would refuse to back down. Finally, someone has said enough is enough. And that someone is the government of Mecklenburg County, N.C.
The county, which includes the city of Charlotte, said on Wednesday that it would not pay a $23,000 ransom to a group of hackers who seized control of several government computer systems. The breach was announced on Tuesday when the county government said on Twitter that it was “experiencing a computer-system outage.”
“I am confident that our backup data is secure and we have the resources to fix this situation ourselves,” Dena R. Diorio, the Mecklenburg County manager, said in a statement on Wednesday. “It will take time, but with patience and hard work, all of our systems will be back up and running as soon as possible.”
Mecklenburg is the most populous county in North Carolina, and the attack compromised many of its systems. But on Wednesday it said it was “open for business, albeit somewhat slower with limited access to systems.” Without the internet, civil servants were doing their jobs using “paper processes,” it said.
Officials said they believed the hackers had not obtained the personal information of any employees or private citizens. The targeted systems included those of the tax assessor’s office and the Parks and Recreation and Social Services Departments, the county said in a statement.
Ransomware breaches are not uncommon. In May, tens of thousands of computers in more than 70 countries were hit by a ransomware attack that used software stolen from the National Security Agency. The next month, a second ransomware attack swept through more than 64 countries.
Hackers often ask to be paid in Bitcoin, an online cryptocurrency whose value has skyrocketed over the last year, and their victims often comply. Last month, Uber said that it had paid hackers $100,000 to delete data they stole and that the company had kept the data breach secret for more than a year.
A local news station in North Carolina reported on Tuesday that the hackers who targeted Mecklenburg County asked to be paid 2 Bitcoins, or $23,000. When a Twitter user quippedthat Bitcoin had “really gone up” lately, Ms. Diorio responded, “Indeed.”
The hackers have not been publicly identified, and the exact threat they made to Mecklenburg County was not clear. But officials did not appear to be particularly cowed on Wednesday.
Instead of paying the hackers, the county said, it will rebuild the affected systems from scratch using backed-up data.
“It was going to take almost as long to fix the system after paying the ransom as it does to fix it ourselves,” Ms. Diorio said. “And there was no guarantee that paying the criminals was a sure fix.”