Day 4: Hackers still control Madison County government servers, demand ransom

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ANDERSON, IND. – Authorities in Madison County are still working frantically to find their important files and documents after hackers broke into the system and stole critical information, Friday. The cyber criminals are demanding a large sum of money as ransom, and officials say paying that undisclosed amount is still on the table.

“They are calling this a very significant event and that means whoever is behind it absolutely knows what they are doing and it is going to be extremely difficult for us to gain access of our servers on our own,” said Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger.

Madison County police, firefighters, and officials access to their county server and are logging all calls for service by hand.

“We cannot query old information to bring up prior reports or prior court records. If we want to bring somebody’s record up for something in the future, let’s say for somebody that has been arrested or somebody who is even in jail then we cannot look up information that would help us at a hearing. On the sheriff’s office side, we cannot book people into jail using the computers. We are using pencil and paper like the old days,” said Sheriff Mellinger.

The hackers used a computer virus to block access to the files until someone pays a large sum of money to get them back.

We spoke with the Director of the County’s IT Department, Lisa Cannon, who said the message from the hackers was very clear.

“Just as you would have a ransom note you see on a drama on TV when someone is kidnapped, there is a ransom note and it is exactly that type of thing.”

Cannon would not say how much the hackers were demanding but that it was a large sum. Her team is now working with the County’s cyber insurance company and following their lead in resolving the matter. Cannon said paying the ransom is still very much on the table.

“We are in the discretion of the insurance company. That’s a decision they’re going to make.”

When asked how this could happen to an entire County’s computer system, Cannon explained that the IT department took all the security measures they could have, but hackers found a way in.

“Municipalities, counties, federal government, people have been hit,” she said. “That is not an excuse on my part. It’s just the reality of today.”

Although Anderson Police, the Madison County Jail, and the county court systems are locked out of accessing important documents officials do not believe that people’s personal or payment information is at risk. Also, the voting records and ballots are on a separate system and at this time were reportedly not affected by the hack. The Madison County 911 system is also running.

Voting has also not been impacted.

“The voting is not even kept on this network,” explained Cannon. “I don’t think this has to do with an election. I don’t think it has to do with crippling a certain department. I think that this is a group of people who do this to do it.”

Sheriff Mellinger added, “I don’t believe that public safety is at risk because of this particular incident. If this were to go on very long or for some reason we were not able to ultimately gain access of out files then I would be more worried.”

The Indiana State Police Cybercrimes Unit is the head of the investigation and ISP officers do not negotiate with hackers. The officers will work to track down who is responsible for the attack.

“In a perfect world, we will bust through this thing today and gain access back and somehow find the bad guys,” said Sheriff Mellinger.

Madison County does have ransomware insurance. The county reports that they currently have leads on the hackers but are not releasing more information at this time.