The Police Department in Midlothian, a suburban village in Southwest Chicago, was hit by the Cryptowave virus, which encrypted some of the files on the computers in the department.
This means that certain computers needed an encryption key to access the files, reports the Chicago Tribune.
"It didn't encrypt everything in the police department. It was just that computer and specific files, not the entire system,” Midlothian IT vendor Calvin harden Jr. told to the Chicago Tribune.
Harden explained that the unknown hacker didn’t access the information on the computers, but just made them inaccessible for the local police department.
He explained that someone at the Midlothian Police department opened an email that contained the virus. After the computer was locked down, a blackmail message popped up the screen demanding money in exchange for a code that would allow access.
The President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Elwood area’s own top cop, Fred Hayes explained the virus is has become increasingly more common. His advice to other departments is to backup their data.
"This is something that quite a few people recently, and when I say recently (I mean) over the last year or two, have been experiencing," Hayes told the Chicago Tribune.
Midlothian Police Chief Harold Kaufman confirmed that the department had been hacked but otherwise declined to comment.
Officials tried to wire the money through Bank of America, Harden said, but couldn't.
Ultimately the village and the department decided to comply with the request of the hacker believing them would be more trouble than it’s worth.
A Chicago Tribune open records request turned up a village invoice listing the payment with the heading "MPD virus."
"Because the backups were also infected, the option was to pay the hacker and get the files unencrypted," Harden said, "which is what we decided to do."
Harden explained that the hacker requested bitcoin payment because it is “pretty much untraceable.”
Bitcoin is an online peer to peer encrypted payment system that does require a middleman. So the hacker could could just obtain the $500 without any trace of a transaction.
Co-chair of the Communications and Technology Committee for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police explained that cyber security “weighs heavily” on police chiefs.
"Chiefs across the entire nation are concerned with the growing trend of computer crime," Alsup said. "Hardly a day goes by that we don't see in both the print and audio media, we hear of instances of computer crime, computer hacking, large organized criminal groups internationally that are stealing through the use of computers."
A Public warning issued by the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI told consumers and businesses last year about the virus explained it’s “essentially extortion.”