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US Cops Pay Bitcoin Ransom to Liberate Files Held by Hackers

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Hackers infiltrated the computer network shared by law enforcement departments in Maine, then forced the cops to pay a Bitcoin ransom to decrypt the files the hackers were holding hostage.

The local law enforcement server, which is used by the sheriff's office and multiple police departments in Lincoln County, Maine, share a common computer network maintained by Burgess Computer.

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In March, the server was infected with an encryption virus, which encrypted files by the Megacode ransomware – making them barely readable. In exchange for decrypting the files, the hackers demanded a Bitcoin ransom.

Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Bracket assumes the virus was transmitted by an email which a server user opened. From there, the user most likely was directed to a link, which downloaded the virus onto the server, Brackett said.

After spending a couple of days unsuccessfully trying to decrypt the files on their own, law enforcement begrudgingly paid the Bitcoin ransom.

"We tried to find a way around it," Brackett said, "but in the end our IT guys and Burgess recommended just paying the ransom."

Burgess Computer covered the equivalent of €300 euros in bitcoin currency ($318) that was paid to a European bank account, Brackett said. Hours later, the cops had access to the decrypted files.

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The hack has caused Brackett's department to offer more training addressing online attacks.

"We'll have more virus protection training where we go over how to tell if something might be a virus," Brackett said. "Sometimes, it's hard to tell, but you've got to keep an eye out for some of these documents that people [email] you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it contains a virus."

And while Bracket said it is still possible that another virus is sitting dormant somewhere on the server, he feels reassured now that the department has a capable backup server.

Maine's law enforcement is not the only one to be ensnared by ransomware. Police in Massachusetts were made to pay up in a similar situation last week, which was not the first time they had been targeted.

The FBI is now offering millions in reward money to catch the hackers behind some ransomware.

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