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For Second Time in a Year, Baltimore Hit With Ransomware

Officials have shut down a majority of the city's servers as a precaution, according to a spokesperson for the mayor's office. Meanwhile, core services like fire, police and emergency medical services remain operational.

For the second time in a little over a year, a ransomware attack has struck the city of Baltimore, affecting its computer network and leading officials to shut down a majority of its servers, according to the mayor’s office.

The attack, which occurred sometime Tuesday morning, left unaffected most critical systems such as its 911, 311, emergency medical services and the fire department, though the city has shut down a majority of its servers as a precaution, according to the mayor’s office. 

“Baltimore City core essential services (police, fire, EMS and 311) are still operational but it has been determined that the city’s network has been infected with ransomware virus,” reads a statement from the office. 

Ransomware attacks — wherein hackers use malicious software to lock and encrypt data before asking for a ransom in exchange for unlocking it — have been increasing in frequency in recent years.

In March of 2018, Baltimore’s 911 and emergency dispatch system were similarly incapacitated when ransomware attackers took down the city's computer-aided dispatch system for some 17 hours.   

Mayoral spokesperson Lester Davis told the Baltimore Brew that the city would not pay any ransom. 

While the city has no plans to play ball with the hackers, officials are working now to restore the network — though it is unclear when the systems will be up and running again, said James E. Bentley II, spokesperson for the mayor's office. Bentley also couldn’t specify when the attack initially began. 

Officials said that at this time there was no evidence that any personal data had been stolen as a result of the attack. 

In the meantime, city staff have been instructed to leave their computers in whatever state they found them, or to unplug them. 

The network problems have also resulted in some customer service issues for various departments, including payment issues for water bill fees for city and county customers. This has led the city's director of Public Works to temporarily suspend late water bill fees. 

The city’s Office of Information Technology has been having meetings throughout the day to discuss “next steps” and how to move forward, said Bentley. 

“City employees are working diligently to determine the source and extent of the infection,” reads a statement released by the mayor’s office.  

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.