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FBI, DHS Investigate Malware Attack in Ada County, Idaho

A ransomware attack cut off access to Ada County Highway District computers for around 30 hours this week. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security were notified as part of “standard practice,” a county official said.

(TNS) — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into a ransomware attack that brought down Ada County Highway District computer systems for about 30 hours this week.

Officials aren’t sure how the attack occurred, Natalie Shaver, a public information specialist for ACHD, said in a phone interview Wednesday. Investigators believe the attackers weren’t able to access the department’s databases, but they aren’t yet sure.

Ransomware attacks typically work by using malware to threaten data stored on a computer system, often by blocking access to it. The FBI says on its website that victims of such attacks often open a legitimate-looking “phishing” emails and then open a link or attachment that appears legitimate but instead contains malicious code.

Typically, attackers request money to give the victim access to their files again, often in the form of cryptocurrency, because hackers consider it anonymous. Payment does not always guarantee a victim will regain access. Shaver said she wasn’t able to share how much attackers requested or how they wanted to receive the payment, but she said ACHD did not pay.

Most employees in ACHD’s Garden City headquarters became aware of the attack about 11:30 Monday morning after members of the department’s information technology department told workers to turn off their computers. The attack had little immediate effect on operations, Shaver said, because many employees work out in the field and those who work in-office were able to work offline.

“No data was lost that we’re aware of,” Shaver said. She also said officials had no knowledge of any information being stolen.

The attack temporarily took down ACHD’s website. It came back online about 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

It is not uncommon for the federal government to get involved in cyberattacks. The FBI and Homeland Security both have divisions tasked with looking into “cybercrime,” as such attacks are called. Ransomware attacks have become increasingly sophisticated over the years.

“It’s a standard practice we have and I believe it’s standard practice on (the FBI’s and Homeland Security’s) end,” Shaver said of reporting such attacks to federal agencies. “We are a government agency. They want to know more about about these attacks.”

©2019 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.