U.S. government policy forbids negotiating with terrorists for good reason.
Despite the impact of short-term threats, often including the potential loss of precious human lives, such negotiations give terrorist organizations a leg up in legitimacy.
And if a government entity pays the demands of terrorists, who’s to say if other ill-meaning groups will take advantage of that precedent in the future?
A similar threat lies in the very real challenge of cyber ransom, to which private companies and government agencies alike — including Northwest Indiana entities — are falling victim.
Government agencies especially should be cautious how they choose to play ball with cyber ransom terrorists.
It happened to the LaPorte County government offices earlier this week.
Unknown hackers took over a portion of the Region county's computer system.
"This particular virus — RYUK — that was used by the bad actors was particularly insidious in that it jumped over all our firewalls and was able to penetrate backup servers," said Vidya Kora, president of the LaPorte County commissioners. "Even after conferring with the FBI's cyber security unit to determine if their decryption codes would work, they determined after several tries their 'keys' would not unlock our data."
In all, the computer virus infected about 7% of the county's computers and server network on July 6, county officials said.
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Then came the ransom demand from an unknown and clandestine entity: Pay us $221,000, or you'll never see that data again.
Ultimately, LaPorte County government opted to negotiate.
A firm hired by the county talked the computer ransom down to $132,000, which the county paid via digital currency.
County insurance is set to cover $100,000 of the ransom.
Now, LaPorte County must do all it can to shore up its cyber security, particularly because it just became a bigger target. Would-be hackers may very well believe that since the county has paid up once, it’s likely to be willing to pay up again.
Cyber security experts note that's one of the biggest threats of playing ball with those demanding e-ransoms.
Government bodies within Northwest Indiana, and throughout the country, should be pooling knowledge and resources to fight this problem before it becomes an epidemic.
Having to fold to the monetary demands of cyber terrorists will never be a tenable solution.