Salem deals with cyberattack

Hackers recently breached Salem town computers and possibly stole information, according to Town Manager Chris Dillon.

Computer systems have been offline, Dillon said, and town employees are working “around the clock” to resolve the ongoing disruption this has caused. He said Thursday the systems will remain offline until the town is confident they can be brought back online securely.

This means people can’t pay taxes or water or sewer bills online, for example, though the town’s website notes: “As of 10/27/2020 the site is expected to be down for several days. Shut off for nonpayment has been delayed.”

Dillon said since learning Oct. 21 of “a sophisticated cybersecurity attack involving ransomware,” an investigation has determined that hackers were able to access internal systems and may have downloaded data from certain servers.

“We regret that this has happened along with any inconveniences that it has caused – and are committed to keeping our community informed as additional updates are available,” Dillon said.

Police Chief Joel Dolan said all town computers are offline, including the police and fire departments. But the Salem School District has not been hacked, according to the superintendent’s office.

Dillon said Salem is one of many municipalities in the country hit by similar cyber-attacks.

While ransomware attacks have been ongoing for years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency alerted the public Wednesday of a wave of such attacks targeting public health and health care systems for financial gain.

Federal authorities say the specific ransomware being used, known as Ryuk, scrambles the victims’ data and holds it hostage. Ryuk has also reportedly been used against municipalities across the country.

Dillon said he did not know if the attack on the town’s computers was part of that same wave.

In his statement, Dillon did not specify if the program used in the attack was Ryuk, or state how much money was demanded.

In July, 2019, New Bedford, Mass., was the victim of a Ryuk ransomware attack. The hackers demanded a ransom of $5.2 million in Bitcoin, New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell told reporters last fall.

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