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Chenango County, N.Y., Computers Hit with Ransomware Attack

The attack primarily targeted the county's email system and was likely compromised by a remote login, the use of which has significantly increased since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, an official said.

ransomware attack computer screen
(TNS) — A cyberattack on Chenango County government computers is not expected to interfere with regular operations, including elections, according to county officials.

About half of the county's 400 computers were found locked Sunday, Oct. 18, after an apparent ransomware attack, according to Herman Ericksen, director of information technology.

The attackers — likely based in Hong Kong, according to an investigation by the New York state Department of Homeland Security — are demanding $450 for the release of each machine, Ericksen said, totaling around $90,000.

"We're not going to pay that," Ericksen said. "There's a lot of these attacks going around."

The attack primarily targeted the county's email system and was likely compromised by a remote login, the use of which has significantly increased since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Ericksen said.

In his nearly 35 years with the department, Ericksen said he had never seen a cyberattack of this nature before.

The attack affected computers in every department except the sheriff's office and social services, which rely primarily on independent networks, according to Ericksen. The Department of Motor Vehicles was not affected and remains functional.

With the presidential election less than three weeks away at the time of the attack and early voting starting in just six days, the Board of Elections was the county's first priority to get back online, Ericksen said.

Ballot counters, poll pads and ballot-on-demand printers so far remain functional, according to Democratic Elections Commissioner Carol Franklin, so the Board of Elections is continuing to accept absentee ballots and those completed in-person through early voting, but the department cannot process or produce any reports except the number of ballots it has received.

The attack would have been inconvenient during any election year, Franklin said, but the problem was compounded by the record volume of ballots coming in for this year's presidential race.

While about 2,000 Chenango County voters submit absentee ballots in an average election year, the county has already received well over 5,000, Franklin said.

"It is a nightmare for us," Franklin said. "We just need our computers back."

While the computer system is being rebuilt from backup versions, county employees are relying on paper files and other workarounds, Ericksen said.

Each party's office is padlocked, and absentee ballots are being kept "under lock and key," Franklin said.

The New York state Board of Elections is assisting in the ballot-counting process and "verifying everything," Franklin said. "They all know what's going on."

Franklin assured voters that Chenango County's election results will not be compromised as a result of the cyberattack.

"There's no bogus stuff going on," she said. "It's just delaying what we can do, timewise, but it will all get done. The voters need to have confidence — they really do."

©2020 The Daily Star, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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