Officials with the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office say they had no choice but to pay up when they were locked out of their files by ransomware.
Detective Jeff McCliss, the agency’s IT director, described how 72,000 files were locked by CryptoWall for a ransom of $500 paid in bitcoins. Bitcoin payments are irreversible and can be highly anonymous, leaving the victim with no legal recourse to recover their funds.
Faced with a dilemma, McCliss had no choice. The files comprised of autopsy reports, witness statements and crime scene photographs- “every sort of document that you could develop in an investigation was in that folder.” After consulting with the TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation), FBI and even the military, they realized the only solution was to pay up:
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“Is it better to take a stand and lose all that information? Or make the payment grit your teeth and just do it?. It made me sick to have to do that.”
Various forms of ransomware have reportedly threatened to destroy the private keys needed to unlock the files if payment is not received by a given deadline.
CryptoWall is one of the newer, more formidable generations of ransomware which has yet to be defeated. A solution for an earlier iteration, Cryptolocker, was reportedly deployed several months ago.
Security experts have estimated that hackers have netted over $3 million from such hijackings, although the vast majority of victims have refused to pay up.