Cleveland Breaks Silence on Airport Ransomware Attack

City officials were slow to give details about the technical disruption of information boards and email last week at Cleveland Hopkins International, but have since confirmed the outage was the result of a cyberattack.

by Mark Naymik, Advance Ohio Media / April 29, 2019
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Shutterstock/Karl R. Martin

(TNS) –– All of last week, Mayor Frank Jackson's administration downplayed the nature of the malfunctions that disabled flight and baggage information screens at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, sources said.

The computer system that run the screens, which went dark last Monday, were compromised by a form of malware that sought a ransom from the city, multiple sources told cleveland.com. Airport officials, however, did not respond to any such demands.

Contacted Monday about the assertions, Cleveland's Chief Information Officer Donald Phillips told cleveland.com that the city did not intend to mislead the public –– and the media –– about the problem.

"We were giving you what we knew at the time," he said.

Phillips acknowledged that he considers the malware involved to be form of ransomware. He said the city was asked by the malware to respond to an email address for more information about the hack but the city did not respond.

"We never responded and moved on to fix it," he said.

In public statements last week, Jackson's administration described the problem as a technical issue. The mayor's office also had declined to even to acknowledge that the city contacted the FBI about the case, though the FBI has confirmed as much. On Friday, the city said the systems were affected by a form of malware, but maintained that did not equate to being hacked.

Chief of Communications Valarie McCall said Monday that the city has a meeting at 10 a.m. today with city officials and its "federal partners" and will update the public later this afternoon.

Phillips said "95 percent" of the system operating the screens was back online.

The malware attack has not affected flights schedules or security operations at the airport. The city has denied reports by some media that other systems, such as the airport's payroll and timekeeping, were affected. There is no evidence that they were affected by the malware.

©)2019 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.