Every time Eric Evans reads a report about government officials paying thousands of dollars in ransom to computer hackers to recover stolen data, it gives him the chills.

The chief technology officer for Monroe County said he empathizes with the government employees who have to deal with the fallout of a cyberattack, having fended off his fair share while working with the county.

Evans has seen an increase in hackers targeting municipal and county agencies throughout the state in recent years.

Scott Shackelford, chair of the IU Cybersecurity Program, said while cyberattacks of governmental agencies have occurred since the late 1990s, he agrees there has been an uptick in these attacks on critical civilian infrastructure nationwide. This includes not only local governmental agencies, but also hospitals and police stations. He said even libraries at times can be targeted.

Shackelford said smaller-scale attacks such as these can oftentimes be overshadowed by cyberattacks directed at large corporations such as Equifax, but can be just as devastating.

Evans said the number of cyberattacks are probably increasing because some government officials have paid the ransom hackers demanded.

“(Hackers) see these stories and they think cha-ching,” Evans said.

Just this month, LaPorte County paid hackers $130,000 following a ransomware attack. This is after hiring a go-between firm to negotiate down the initial demand of $221,000, according to a news release from the county. Since the attack, LaPorte County has been restoring the data and began taking steps to reduce the chances of another attack in the future, LaPorte County Commissioner Vidya Kora said in a July 12 news release.

Shackelford said paying a ransom to hackers is troubling, because it is basically giving into extortion. He said this not only sets a dangerous precedent, it makes it more difficult to hold these attackers accountable. However, he understands that in cases where the stolen data is critical to public safety or privacy concerns, there is pressure to recover that information quickly. In LaPorte, they felt out of options to recover the data.
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