Hacker Holds SC Fire Department Hostage amid Pandemic

March 20, 2020
“It’s certainly not the most convenient timing … but we are ready to respond to emergencies, and we are ready to respond for the coronavirus," said Bluffton Township Fire District Capt. Lee Levesque.

“If you see this message — this means your files are now encrypted and are in a non-working state!”

That note was discovered on the Bluffton Township Fire District’s computer servers on Sunday, which were rendered inoperable by a hacker, according to a report from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Staff at the fire department discovered they could not log into their computers Sunday and alerted Information Technology staff, who discovered that records, files and email communications had been encrypted. Late Sunday night, they reported the issue to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, S.C. Law Enforcement Division and Cyber Crimes unit for the F.B.I.

Personal information on the fire department’s servers was not accessed in the hack, and the department’s ability to respond to emergencies was not affected, Bluffton Fire Capt. Lee Levesque said.

Levesque said the major problem is with the records systems, so the department is reverting to physical paperwork filing. Employees also no longer have access to email.

The department, which requested help from Gov. Henry McMaster’s office, is also getting help from the cybersecurity team of the National Guard in regaining access to their servers.

“Now only we can help you recover”

The hack comes amid a major shutdown of public life in Beaufort County due to the coronavirus and self-quarantining by many of its residents.

“It’s certainly not the most convenient timing,” Levesque said. “It does add a bit of stress to our operations, but we are ready to respond to emergencies, and we are ready to respond for the coronavirus.”

The hacker seemed to have been seeking communication with the department over decrypting its files. The ransom note included an email address to write to where the hacker would reply with “the cost of decrypting your files.”

The hacker included assurance that the files would be returned after payment.

“Now only we can help you recover,” the note read. Instead of responding, the fire department and its IT services went to law enforcement, as the F.B.I. recommends.

Last year, Jasper County was the target of a malware attack, which slowed some key online services the county offers. These “ransomware” attacks against local governments in the U.S. have been on the rise, with 169 incidents nationwide from 2013 to 2019, according to a report from cybersercurity firm Recorded Future.


©2020 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com

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