City computers hacked, data held for ransom
By Ken Childers
When the computers at Okemah City Hall were fired up Monday morning, users were greeted with an ominous message: The system had been hacked and the data was being held for ransom.
The hackers initially set a ransom price of $2,500, but that number soon tripled. A countdown clock appeared on computer screens, giving the city a deadline of June 15 to pay up or the price would increase to $14,000.
City Manager Dustin Danker immediately took action to get the system unlocked and the data reclaimed, but called an emergency city council meeting to get authorization to pay the ransom if all else failed. The meeting took place before Monday’s regularly scheduled council meeting.
“This morning we came in and the whole server and system had been hacked. It’s hacked for ransom that started out as $2,500, and now it’s gone to $7,000,” Danker informed the council. “We immediately called our IT support, then we called OMAG (Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group).”
OMAG told Danker that it was a new hack, and they couldn’t find a way around it and recommended that the ransom be paid. The council authorized Danker to make the payment if local attempts to recover the data were unsuccessful.
The city has an insurance policy through OMAG which covers computer hacking and ransom demands, but would still be responsible for the deductible. Danker said he wasn’t sure whether the deductible was $500 or $1,000, because he was not able to get into the system to confirm the exact amount.
Just before press time on Tuesday, Danker told ONL that the insurance company was in the process of negotiating with “the bad guys.”
Danker said the Okemah Police Department and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation were both notified of the crime. City Councilman Ron Gott said the case should also be reported to the state attorney general’s office.
According to Danker, measures will be taken to avoid such attacks in the future. Those measures include shutting down all computers at the end of the day, and auto-shutdown devices will be installed in case the computers are not shut down automatically.