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Ransomware Hackers Attack N.C. Town for More Than a Month

Sunset Beach, N.C., faced a series of ransomware attacks over a six-week period. Fortunately, the local IT team recovered most of the town’s documents and has taken multiple steps to improve security.

(TNS) — Over the past six weeks, the town of Sunset Beach was attacked by a series of ransomware hacks, officials said.

Sunset Beach officials did not disclose how much money those responsible were seeking and said they did not communicate with them at all.

The revelation came out last week during a town council meeting when Planning Director Chad Staradumsky was questioned about the progress of the town’s floodplain permits.

“All my floodplain permits ... were part of that hacking,” Staradumsky said.

Sunset Beach Mayor Shannon Phillips confirmed the hacks, saying the town was having “technology problems,” but directed questions to interim Town Administrator Lisa Anglin.

“I know they’ve been having some problems with the computers, but I don’t know the details of it,” Phillips said.

At the meeting, Anglin said the town’s IT department was able to recover 99% of their documents.

“Our issue was ransomware that came in through a port that is no longer used,” Anglin wrote in an email. “Fortunately we have our entire computer system backed up daily, so we were able to restore our system to the prior day.”

The only information lost were files stored on desktops rather than the town’s server, and government operations were not affected other than having to recreate some documents, Anglin said.

No outside agencies, like the FBI, became involved.

“Our IT group has installed equipment and software to prevent anyone from accessing our system in the future,” Anglin said.

The Sunset Beach hacking is the latest in an increase of cyber attacks against critical infrastructure — including local governments — with many being asked for payment in exchange for their hacked information.

According to a Temple University study, the number of critical infrastructure ransomware attacks have increased dramatically in the last two years. The university tracked more than 520 such attacks in 2020 and the first six months of 2021 alone, compared to 437 in the previous four years combined.

In North Carolina, the Chatham and Onlsow County governments, the cities of Greenville and Durham and the N.C. State Bar have all been targeted for ransomware attacks in the past three years.

In May, ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline Co. caused a five-day shutdown of fuel lines, leading to gas shortages in 14 states. The company reportedly paid $5 million to the hacker group DarkSide.

Councilman Charles Nern said he had no further details on the hacking but expected to be updated at a future council meeting.

©2021 Star-News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.