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Monroe County cyberattack response will take time and money, expert says

Bloomington Courthouse

The full impact of a ransomware attack on Monroe County government servers may not be known for a while. (Barbara Brosher)

The full impact of a ransomware attack on Monroe County government servers may not be known for a while. 

The county confirmed Monday that last week’s outage was due to a cyberattack and announced it is working with a third party to investigate. 

In the days since the attack, county officials have been hesitant to share more information.  

Greg Crohn, county chief technology officer, said Wednesday that he could not estimate a timeframe. 

“Our partners are working around the clock to get this completed,” Crohn said. “It’s going to take as long as it takes.” 

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Crohn said information indicates no employee sensitive information has been misused, as was the case when the county issued a statement Monday. However, he declined to answer additional questions about the attack, citing the ongoing investigation. 

WFIU/WTIU News also has reached out to Julie Thomas, president of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, for more information. Thomas declined to share information beyond what was in the county’s statement. 

Scott Shackelford, executive director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, said investigations of this kind depend on the targeted organization. 

“It just depends on the scope of the breach and the size of your organization,” Shackelford said. “If there is a really large digital footprint — dozens of networks, distributed systems that are pretty far flung — it can take weeks or even months." 

Conversely, Shackelford said it could take just hours or days to determine the scope of an attack on a smaller system. 

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He said this could be true for Clay County government servers, which local media outlets reported was also targeted in a likely ransomware attack Tuesday. 

“It does depend on the resources the third party is throwing at the problem, and unfortunately, the size of the pocketbook,” Shackelford said. “This type of remediation doesn’t come cheap.” 

The software used in the attack, BlackSuit, is linked to a cybercriminal organization in Russia. BlackSuit is a type of Royal Ransomware, which has been used to make ransom demands ranging from $1 million to $11 million Bitcoin.  

In the most extreme cases, entities targeted in cyberattacks may end up paying a ransom, according to Shackelford. He added this is especially true for hospitals, where patient lives are on the line. 

“That does the unfortunate job of incentivizing the bad guys to keep doing bad things,” he said. “So, there's no reason then that they wouldn't go back and either attack the same organization — in this case, Monroe County, again — after the ransom is paid or go after other counties after they've proven the vulnerabilities and shown that the model works.” 

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In other cases, victims have refused to pay a ransom but still incurred steep costs. 

Shackelford pointed to a 2019 case involving the City of Baltimore. In that instance, the attackers demanded a $76,000 ransom, which the city declined to pay. Shackelford said the city instead paid about $18 million in remediation and recovery. 

For Monroe County, the best-case scenario is the data exposure was minimal and no personally identifiable information was compromised, Shackelford said.  

“There’s no good answer when you’re in this type of situation, and ultimately, it can come down to, what are the resources in the case of Monroe County and is there an insurance policy in play?” he said. 

An attorney for the county said it has a cyber insurance policy with Travelers.  

At an update to the county council Tuesday night, a human resources official said the county payroll was being processed despite an initial disruption to online banking because of the sever outage. 

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