Civic News
Cybersecurity / Municipal government

City of Baltimore ransomware attack affects home sales, payments and more

More than a week since many IT systems were shut down, Baltimore officials said they are working "around the clock" to bring systems online, but did not offer a timeframe for return.

Baltimore City Hall. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

More than week after a cyber attack attack left many city government IT systems down, city officials said Wednesday that they’re continuing to work to bring systems back online.

“I can tell you confidently … we will be back online and we will be back online more safely and securely than we were before,” said City of Baltimore Chief Information Officer Frank Johnson, adding that a team involving city employees and others is working “around the clock” to restore the systems. What’s not clear, however, is when the systems will be back up and running.

“I know that everybody wants to know when and what will be back online. Anybody that’s in this business will tell you that as you learn more, those plans will change by the minute. They are incredibly fluid,” Johnson said.

The attack is under investigation by the FBI, and the city’s technology team is working with Microsoft as well as outside industry experts, officials said. Johnson said officials also talked about the attack with counterparts in Atlanta who faced an attack on their city’s network last year.

Citing the criminal investigation, however, City Solicitor Andre Davis said “there’s very little we can say,” about other details, such as which outside firms the city is working with, and whether there was a recovery or emergency plan in place for an attack.

While 911 and 311 have continued to be operational, other city systems have been down since May 7 as a result of the attack. Attackers used a variant of the RobbinHood ransomware to encrypt data on a network, and demanded payment in return the keys. Officials declined to discuss the ransom demand on Wednesday.

While the city’s website remains accessible — and safe to use, officials added — many functions of city government that utilize digital tools have been let unavailable. Along with cutting off access to email, the attack has also left payment systems, including online water bill payment. Some of the other affected functions that have been reported include the following:

  • Real estate transactions, including home sales, have been put on hold since the city’s lien system is not available, said city finance director Henry J. Raymond. Officials are hoping this process could resume “late next week,” but there are “no guarantees,” Raymond said.
  • The Bad Batch system, which was launched by the Baltimore City Health Department in partnership with Code in the Schools, is unable to provide text alerts about clusters of drug overdoses, the Baltimore Sun reported.
  • Cross Street Market was scheduled to reopen in Federal Hill following redevelopment, but permits and final inspections for vendors were delayed, reported.
Companies: City of Baltimore

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