Ransomware attack cripples US prison

Hackers last week managed to break into the system that controls servers and internet access at the Bernalillo County Jail in Southwest New Mexico. The attack even briefly disabled the automatic doors of the penitentiary, forcing staff to open and lock each gate manually when prisoners went to the shower or for a walk.

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Also read: Ransomware: a network dismantled in Switzerland and Ukraine

“The lack of video surveillance causes real concern for the safety of staff and detainees” when the latter are out of their cells, reads a document sent to a local court on January 6. Consequently, “the detainees are temporarily confined to their cells” and deprived of activities, the only exception mentioned being related to possible medical care.

Other targeted public services

The ransomware attack not only targeted the jail but many other utilities in New Mexico’s most populous Bernalillo County, in the Albuquerque area.

In a press release dated January 10, the county explained to its citizens that it was still affected by “computer problems” resulting from this attack, preventing for example the delivery of marriage certificates, the registration on the electoral roll or the registration of real estate transactions. Asked by AFP, local authorities did not react on Wednesday afternoon. No details were released as to the identity of the hackers or the nature of their requests.

Also read: How can Switzerland defend itself against cyber attacks?

A ransomware attack involves hackers breaking into an entity’s computer network and then locking down the data. The authors then ask those in charge of that company, organization or administration to pay a ransom, most often in the form of cryptocurrency, in exchange for the unlocking.

According to a report by the US Department of the Treasury, some $ 590 million in ransoms linked to such attacks were reported in the first half of 2021 alone by financial institutions operating in the United States. This figure was 42% higher than the amount reported for the whole of 2020, which illustrates the acceleration of the phenomenon.

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