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South Florida City Grapples With Ransomware Attack

Pembroke Pines is yet another South Florida city that has fallen victim to a ransomware attack. The attack briefly knocked the city's systems offline, but it remains unknown if any personal data was stolen.

(TNS) — The city of Pembroke Pines has fallen victim to cyber criminals, becoming the latest in South Florida to be targeted in a rising wave of ransomware attacks.

The ransomware attack happened about Jan. 13, according to city spokeswoman Marianne Wohlert. The city so far won’t say which services were affected, but acknowledged the ransomware has “impacted our ability to access certain city computer systems.”

Ransomware is a type of crime that involves hackers accessing computer networks and locking down information — and then offering to unlock it in exchange for money. Wohlert said staff is working with “third-party specialists to determine the nature and scope of the incident and to securely restore systems.”

City officials said the crime was reported to the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, which handles cyber crime. Pembroke Pines notified city commissioners about the cyber attack this week, indicating the city’s computers were only “down for a short period of time,” some commissioners said.

Whether anyone’s personal data was breached is unclear. “Should our investigation determine that personal information was affected by this incident, we will provide notice to individuals as required,” Wohlert said.

A police spokeswoman said no incident report was available and referred questions to the city. The city’s manager and mayor could not be reached for comment.

Pembroke Pines City Hall is only the latest public agency to fall victim to intruders in Florida and across the U.S.

Broward schools faced a data breach, which happened between November 2020 and March 2021. The hackers, part of the international criminal group Conti, hijacked Broward’s servers, demanding a ransom to prevent personal information from being revealed. The district agreed to pay $500,000, but the hackers refused the offer and released district files on a public website.

The school district has offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection service to anyone affected.

And Broward Health hospital was hit by a data breach this past fall that exposed the personal and medical data of some of its patients and employees, including names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank information, addresses, phone numbers, insurance information and medical information, such as diagnosis and treatment.

Broward Health said the breach happened on Oct. 15, 2021, when “an intruder gained entry to the Broward Health network through the office of a third-party medical provider permitted to access the system to provide healthcare services.”

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