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Computer virus strikes Durham Police Department holding records for ransom

Union Leader Correspondent

June 06. 2014 5:20PM
The DECRYPT INSTRUCTION files were spotted on the Durham police department computer before a virus overtook the department's computer system. (COURTESY)

DURHAM – A ransom-ware computer virus overwhelmed the Durham Police Department's computer system on Friday, rendering it “dead in the water” after spreading from an opened email attachment, the town said.

The virus was a variation of Cryptowall, a malware-spreading program that infects computer files then demands a ransom to fix them, town officials said.

“My understanding is that all computers at the police department are inoperable until we are able to isolate the virus,” Town Administrator Todd Selig said on Friday afternoon.

Area police departments in Stafford and Rockingham counties did not appear to have been struck with similar infections, according to Selig and local police.

Strafford County Dispatch, which provides dispatching services for Durham, was notified of the infection because the two agencies share a cross connection of software, Selig said.

“We wanted to be overly cautious,” he said about warning other agencies about the virus.

By late Friday afternoon, workers had isolated the virus. Selig said five or six workers were running scrubbing software on the department's computers and expected to have them up and running by Friday night.

Selig said that a Durham police officer opened what appeared to be a legitimate file attachment sent in an email on Thursday night around 10 p.m.

The virus quickly overtook the department's computer system within hours. Widespread issues were reported within in the department's computer system on Friday morning.

Police Chief David Kurz told Selig by noon on Friday, the department's system was “dead in the water.”

Selig said another document, which usually demands a ransom of between $5,000 to $10,000, to unlock infected files was not opened.

The virus managed to bypass the town's spam filters and anti-virus software, creating significant problems for the department, according to Luke Vincent, Durham's manager of information technology.

Vincent took the entire police department's computer system offline to disinfect and segregated it from the town's other servers, according to Selig.

No cost estimate has been finalized yet, but Selig said the cost could range between $2,000 to $3,000. The event was a reminder for staff and police about how much computers are relied on for everyday business, Selig said He encouraged residents and area businesses to invest in the latest anti-virus software, and be cautious about opening file attachments in emails.

Selig also advised to abide by the mantra: “When in doubt, throw it out,” in an email update about the virus on Friday afternoon.

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