Washington County pays nearly $350,000 in ransom to hackers

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. — Washington County leaders addressed the cyber attack that shut down the county, revealing how much they paid in ransom to “Russian hackers”.

Solicitor Gary Sweat said the hackers demanded ransom money or they’d release the hacked data to the dark web.  The county hired a cyber security firm to facilitate the payment of $346,687.

Several citizens spoke out at the meeting, asking for more transparency.

>> Washington County government back online after security breach

“We were advised not to make any statements because the cybercriminals were listening in on everything being said,” said Sweat.

The ransom money was in exchange for a decryption key to unlock the servers and a promise of deletion of stolen data.

Commissioner Larry Maggi said he voted against paying the ransom, calling it “repugnant” to give in to cybercriminals.

>> Cyber attack on Washington County now considered ransomware attack

“We can’t live in fear, my goodness! Home of the brave... we are living in fear of Russia! The whole thing stinks and I understand it’s more complex than this speech here,” said Maggi

Commissioner Nick Sherman voted ‘yes’ to pay the ransom.  “I agree, nobody wanted to pay that.  We don’t wake up to say, I’m excited to pay cyber terrorists in Russia.... that hacked our system.”

But Sherman explained the hackers stole more than social security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

Sherman explained it was more than leaked social security numbers that swayed his vote, but protecting children of the county from their information getting into the wrong hands.

“Some of the info they got was Children and Youth Services information about the children of Washington County... children in severe need of services, children who have been abused, abducted... very sensitive information,” said Sherman.

County leaders told Channel 11 that immediately after they paid the ransom the decryption key was delivered.  The county is now 80% restored and back online.

Sherman called the hackers, “a highly skilled organization that goes across the world and hijacks information”.

“When you pay the ransom they go away, and they leave you alone, because they know if they don’t people will continue to not pay ransom.  It’s a business model they follow.”

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