Tennessee Sheriff’s Department Forced To Pay $500 Ransom To Malware To Get Their Files Back

In a perfect world the police are supposed to prevent crime, not become crime victims themselves. But a Sheriff’s Department in mid Tennessee collectively became the victim of a crime known as “Ransomware” and wound up having to pay a $500 ransom to get their files back, WTVF (Nashville) is reporting.

“Ransomware,” as it’s known in the industry, is a form of malware — that is, malicious programs such as Trojans and viruses — that locks up the victim’s computer, or his or her files, and forces the victim to pay money to get their computer or files back.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office in Dickson, Tennessee. According to News Max, someone in the Sheriff’s Department was listening to streaming radio on one of the Department’s computers when he or she inadvertently clicked on an ad. Hidden within the ad was the Ransomware program “Cryptowall,” which blocked access to the Department’s files unless a ransom was paid.

According to Detective Jeff McCliss, the malware blocked everything. Everything. Police reports, crime scene photographs, witness statements, autopsy reports, records of traffic tickets — you name it, the malware program blocked it.

“Every sort of document that you could develop in an investigation was in that folder. There was a total of 72,000 files.”

And whoever installed the so-called Cryptowall on the Department’s computer knew exactly what they were doing. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, and even military computer experts were called in to try to rescue the Department’s files.

Nothing worked and, in the end, the Department made the decision, on the advice of the FBI, to pay the ransom: $500, payable in Bitcoins (Bitcoins are an anonymous form of electronic currency).

“Is it better to take a stand and lose all that information? Or make the payment grit your teeth and just do it? It made me sick to have to do that.”

It’s likely that the criminal who installed the malware on the Department’s computer will never be caught. Bitcoins are anonymous and untraceable — and the criminal is working anonymously, likely overseas.

According to antivirus maker Symantec, the Dickson County Sheriff’s Department’s plight illustrates the need to be extra careful about what you click when you’re online.

“The threat typically arrives on the affected computer through spam emails, exploit kits hosted through malicious ads or compromised sites.”

Symantec recommends regularly updating your antivirus software and backing up your files.

As of this post, it is unclear if the Sheriff’s Department employee who accidentally downloaded the ransomware program will face disciplinary action.

[Image courtesy of: KRCB]