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Ransomware Hits City Of Albany Computers

"We're just working in real time, making sure that we get these systems back online, making sure that we can meet the expectations of our residents."
Composite photo Dave Lucas / Wikipedia
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"We're just working in real time, making sure that we get these systems back online, making sure that we can meet the expectations of our residents."

A ransomware attack crippled city of Albany computers over the weekend.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan made the announcement via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram on Sunday: "The City of Albany has experienced a ransomware cyber attack."

The mayor held a noontime press briefing Monday to re-assure the public that city hall was conducting, for the most part, business as usual.  "Throughout this entire incident we were always able to provide public safety services. We, at no point in time was our ability to dispatch police or fire to emergencies impacted by this. And we were able to work throughout the weekend to ensure that today we are able to transact business with our residents, whether they are looking to come in and make payments, apply for building permits, or apply for parking permits, so all of those functions are opened. The only thing that is currently not available in this building are those who are seeking copies of birth certificates, death certificates or marriage certificates. They will be accommodated at the New York State Vital Records in Menands, and so that address is up and available on the city website. We also are not at this point in time taking marriage license applications."

Government employees reported for work at their usual times on Monday. "City Hall on the Road" events for the week have been cancelled. Sheehan was tight-lipped regarding details of the ransomware attack.  "I'm not gonna discuss the incident. We will provide information on that at a later date."

The mayor declined to reveal how the breach happened, how the city is dealing with it, if ransom is being paid, where the attack originated or whether outside forces have been brought in to assist in the investigation. She emphasized that no personal information about city workers or residents is at risk. Credit card information residents put in while conducting online business with the city is never saved.  "We have notified our employees, that out of an abundance of caution, we are going to provide them with, if they want it, with credit monitoring services."

Brian Nussbaum is an assistant professor at the College of Emergency Preparedness Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany.   "Typically, when people talk about ransomware, they're talking about something called crypto-ransomware, and what crypto-ransomware is, is it uses very, very strong cryptography to lock up your file and the ransom is an amount of money paid by the victim, typically in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, to get a key to unlock their files."

Sheehan says the situation is still being evaluated and promised an update in the near future.   "We're just working in real time, making sure that we get these systems back online, making sure that we can meet the expectations of our residents."

The incident follows on the heels of continued denial-of-service attacks that plagued the University at Albany’s computer network last week.  A spokesperson says the college is recovering from those cyberissues.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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