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Friday, 03 August 2018 10:03

Alaskan borough using typewriters after Windows ransomware attack Featured

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A borough in Alaska, which has been reduced to using typewriters after a massive ransomware attack on its Windows machines, has begun a PR campaign to try and portray the dire situation it finds itself in as one that brings out the best in its people.

Matanuska Susitna, a borough in the Anchorage Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population of just below 107,000, declared a disaster on Tuesday after it was hit by what Eric Wyatt, the IT director, claimed was a combination of the worst malware strains in the world.

Nearly all of the 500 workstations, running either Windows 7 or Windows 10, were affected and 120 of the 150 servers were hit as well. Wyatt said recovery would easily take three weeks.

"All of the pieces of this are the absolute worst in the world and they've all been combined together and put on us," Wyatt said in a PR video put out by the borough.

The borough's computers, servers, telephones and email exchange were hit by the malware which also affected the city of Valdez in the state. The email system, running on Microsoft Exchange, is said to be unrecoverable and will need to be rebuilt from scratch.

The attackers used the Emotet loader and the BitPaymer ransomware and the borough said one person had also infiltrated the systems.

"The cyber attack has caused major disruption in Borough services and loss of productivity, which may continue for a prolonged time," Assembly member Ted Leonard told a borough Assembly meeting, according to a report on Mashable.

The borough was using McAfee's anti-virus software but it did not prevent the infection. Wyatt said in a report that the software did not have the necessary definitions to stop the attack.

Also spinning the situation was Kurt Bunker, an IT contractor/consultant, who said: "I think the FBI was pleasantly surprised by how prepared the staff was and how well we had managed the data and the evidence.

"Based on what we've set up, the type of documentation we put forward showing data flow, quarantine, clean, air-gapped environments, how we're moving the data, having a 30-day plan for how we're not only going to recover but maintain the data that could be cleaned and looked at later and also give the FBI what they need in a safe environment...

"I think they were pleasantly surprised. They put a lot of confidence in us and that really goes to show what the staff is doing around here."

According to Wyatt, the malware had lain dormant in the borough's systems since at least 3 May. "The FBI reports that the trojan (Emotet) and the worm (BitPaymer) will lay dormant for four to six weeks and then the Crypto Locker component is frequently launched on a Friday.

"This happened in Valdez and there are reports that on Friday (27 July) multiple other locations in Alaska and around the US were hit."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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