Lafayette pays $45,000 in ransom after cyber-attack disabled computer system

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LAFAYETTE, Colo. (KDVR) — The mayor of Lafayette posted a video Tuesday, saying the City has paid a $45,000 ransom after a cyber attack affected city computer and phone systems.

“The City was coerced into paying a $45,000 ransom to retrieve a ‘key’ to unlock encrypted data,” officials said.

The City of Lafayette announced the cyber attack in a news release. The attack occurred in the early morning hours on July 27, disabling network services and disrupting email, phone, online payment and reservation systems.

Emergency services, 911 and dispatch were not affected by the attack.

Officials say the initial investigation points to ransomware that entered the City’s network through brute force or a phishing scam.

The decision to pay the ransom was made after considering the cost to rebuild the City’s data system and the inconvenience of lengthy service outages for residents.

Steve Beaty is a professor of computer science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and says victims are often left with no choice but to pay the ransom. 

“That’s a question these organizations have to answer, is how much is it worth it to try and get back our data?” he says. “How much data has been stolen, how much time would that take, versus just paying out the ransom?”

Beaty says the hackers likely chose the $45,000 figure carefully, after reviewing what data they had actually stolen. 

“A lot of these folks are very sophisticated and know the sweet spot for what they can get out of an organization,” he says. 

According to Lafayette officials, it remains unclear how exactly the hacker got into their network. 

However, Beaty says the work-from-home set-up being used by many during the pandemic has opened up new options for hackers.

“Now we have multiple home computers, some of them the organization controls, some of them our kids control,” he says. “And so now the environment that people are trying to control, trying to secure, trying to protect, is much larger.”

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