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FBI Looking Into Sarasota, Fla., City Ransomware Attack

Ransomware attacks are not new, but they are among the fastest growing forms of malware, and they increasingly target government and hospital networks.

(TNS) -- Federal investigators are looking into a “ransomware” attack on city computers in February that locked down the city's computer network for an entire day.

“Ransomware” is a breed of malicious software that essentially locks a computer's files or operations, demanding the user pay a “ransom” to restore the machine. The software is often delivered through bogus email attachments downloaded to a computer.

In February, a ransomware program corrupted the city's file-sharing and storage network, forcing information technology staff to freeze the system to stop the program, City Manager Tom Barwin said.

IT staff worked for 10 hours to fix the network and restore the city's files, Barwin said. The city did not pay the “ransom,” he added.

The incident is under criminal investigation by the FBI and Sarasota Police Department, spokeswomen from both agencies confirmed Wednesday.

“We didn't announce it, because, obviously, we don't want to encourage that behavior or make it known that at that point we were vulnerable in any way,” Barwin said. “Since then, we've built a couple more firewalls and they did a good job of recovering quickly. We're now much tighter with this whole issue.”

The incident did not compromise the personal data of any city employees or residents, Barwin said. No data left the city's computer network during the incident and the city recovered all of its files, he added.

In addition to firewall improvements, the city also has upgraded its servers since the attack.

“With the new firewalls in place, we won't be in this position again,” Barwin said. “But we've dramatically improved our (server's) speed capacity, so if it did happen again today, we'd be down only a couple of hours.”

Ransomware attacks are not new, but they are among the fastest growing forms of malware and increasingly target government and hospital networks.

More than 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred daily since the first of the year, a 300 percent increase over the daily average in 2015, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report.

©2016 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.