Pennsylvania DA Office Pays US$1,400 in Bitcoin To Get Rid of Ransomware

The ransomware threat has claimed yet another victim in early December. After a malware attack had taken place against the Pennsylvania Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecutors were forced to cough up a Bitcoin fee. It appears that US$1,400 worth of BTC changed hands during the transaction. When government officials roll over to pay ransomware demands, things are going from bad to worse rather quickly.

Never Ever Pay A Ransomware Fee To Restore File Access

It is very troublesome to find out that the US government is vulnerable to ransomware attacks. This points out that the infrastructure used in the legal system is not up to par, and will invite even more hackers and criminals to try and do their worst. For the Pennsylvania County District Attorney’s Office, this ransomware attack may just have been a warning.

What is even more disconcerting is finding out how the prosecutors saw apparently no other option than to meet the ransom demand. They purchased Bitcoin worth US$1,400 and coughed up the money without giving things a second glance. It remains unknown if any attempts were made to restore file access without paying this sum, although it seems plausible to assume that they did.

Granted, getting rid of ransomware is quite difficult these days. Most malware strains are not supported by the free decryption tools offered by security researchers. Some ransomware versions even go as far as corrupting the computer’s master boot record, making it nearly impossible to revert to a previous data backup.




At the same time, this news story begs the question if and when the DA’s office makes any backups, to begin with. A stressful job, combined with many threats on a daily basis, lead to an environment where cyber security may not be taken all that seriously. That is not to say that individual implementations are not in place, but fighting ransomware is vastly different from scanning for viruses.

According to the Forbes article, this attack was executed by the Avalanche Group. They indicated that a payment had to be made in Bitcoin because of its anonymous nature–rather strange, as Bitcoin is perhaps one of the most transparent forms of transferring value around the world! Anyone can track every transaction in real time without requiring special access or software to do so.

A DA’s office should know better than to pay up the Bitcoin sum demanded as ransom. Paying such a fee is no guarantee to receive a decryption key which will restore file access. With so much legal and sensitive information passing through that office, a lot of damage could have been done by assailants. Moreover, it is not unlikely that future attacks will be made against the US legal system, as the DA’s office set a very dangerous monetary incentive precedent.

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