Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Oshkosh computer outage at City Hall could be ransomware attack; no demands received yet

Colored signs posted on the doors to City Hall direct property owners to local banks to pay their tax bills.

By Miles Maguire
The computer outage at City Hall may be part of a wave of ransomware cyberattacks that have been hitting local governments across the country.

"From what the experts have told us, yes, this can be categorized that way," said City Manager Mark Rohloff. "However we have received no demands."

Just last month Pensacola, Florida; New Orleans; Galt, California; and St. Lucie, Florida, were hit with ransomware attacks, according to CBS News.

The pattern of such attacks is that after computer systems are knocked offline, officials receive a letter demanding payment in bitcoins or a similar digital currency in return for an electronic key that will unlock the infected system. 

Whether ransom is paid or not, the cost of recovery from such an attack can be enormous. Baltimore, for example, ended up spending $18 million, according to news reports.  

In 2019 nearly 1,000 government agencies, healthcare providers and schools were hit with ransomware attacks, according to Emsisoft, a cybersecurity consulting firm. It estimated the potential cost at more than $7.5 billion.

A report it issued in December included statistics indicating that an average ransomware attack costs $8.1 million and takes 287 days to recover from. Smaller cities are unlikely to face such high costs, the consulting firm said.

Emsisoft said a key reason why government entities are hit with cyberattacks is that the public sector doesn't pay enough attention to computer security. One underlying factor may be budget constraints that force other expenses to take priority, the consultants said.

Rohloff said he did not have an estimate of costs or recovery time as of Wednesday morning.

A Facebook post from the city Tuesday afternoon provided an outline of the situation, saying that it was investigating the cause as well as working to rebuild its computer network and recover data. 

"Information stored in databases, such as payroll and billing information, has not been compromised," the city said. "No personal credit card information is stored in city systems."

City services were continuing to operate, including 911, garbage pickup and the bus system. 

The city noted that tax bills could be paid at Associated Bank (10 W. Murdock Ave. and 444 N. Sawyer St.), Community First Credit Union (2424 Westowne Ave. and 1492 W. South Park Ave.) Payments can be mailed to City Hall at P.O. Box 1128, Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54903. 

Since the city's website and email were not available, citizens were directed to used the phone to communicate with city staff. Here are some frequently used numbers:
  • Police nonemergency: (920) 236-5700
  • Fire nonemergency: (920) 236 5240
  • City Hall: (920) 236-5000
The city has been posting updates on social media:

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