author photo
By Bruce Sussman
Mon | Mar 11, 2019 | 8:19 AM PDT

An apparently "undecryptable" strain of ransomware hit a small county in Georgia last week, and county officials decided to pay a huge ransom to hackers to get the decryption keys.

Jackson County, Georgia, did something that we are hearing more about these days. It hired a firm that stores up Bitcoin for the purpose of  negotiating with and paying hacker ransoms.

The county is paying the equivalent back to the firm in U.S. dollars, in this case, about $400,000.

Jackson County Manager Kevin Poe told the Athens Banner-Herald:

“We had to make a determination on whether to pay. We could have literally been down months and months and spent as much or more money trying to get our system rebuilt.”

His comment is evidence that this is a great time for hackers to hit anyone within a stone's throw of Atlanta. Jackson County is about 60 miles away.

Atlanta was hit last year by SamSam ransomware, and the city refused to pay even though the attack crippled its network. Total restoration costs are now estimated to be more than $15 million.

[RESOURCE: The regional Atlanta InfoSec community will gather May 29-30, 2019, for the 17th annual SecureWorld Atlanta conference.]

In that context, a $400,000 ransom seems like a bargain, doesn't it?

Poe says the hackers "totally crippled us" and brought down everything from 9-1-1 related computer systems, to email, to law enforcement booking systems at the county jail.   

“In dealing with the FBI and cybersecurity experts, this is one of the most sophisticated attacks they have ever seen in the U.S.”

It is unclear right now whether this is a previously known strain of ransomware.

Ransomware continues to be discussed at SecureWorld conferences around North America, so join the conversation in your region.

And be sure to bookmark these free ransomware decryption tools that can help with many prevalent ransomware attacks.