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Hackers hit fire district, force ransom payment

Officials paid a $750 ransom to the hackers who had taken control and encrypted files on a computer at the fire district; employees are now being trained on Internet safety


SNOQUALMIE, Wash. — Officials paid a ransom of $750 to hackers who had taken control and encrypted files on a computer at a fire district Jan. 22.

Valley Record reported that the city of Snoqualmie, which provides information technology services to Duvall (Wash.) King County Fire District 45, paid the ransom that was required to unlock a computer on the district’s network. It was encrypted on Jan. 7 when an employee clicked a link in a fake email message.

Fire Chief David Burke said the email was identical to the real invoices the district receives for the dispatch services.

“None of the financials, payroll, none of those things were accessible,” Chief Burke said. “It was more of our daily documents, policies procedures, etc.”

The FBI recommended the district pay the ransom. Fire officials said trying to recreate the files would have taken too much time and effort compared to the small ransom, according to the report.

Chief Burke said a backup system would have prevented the need to pay a ransom, but the district is still in the process of modernizing their systems.

“If our backup had been in place we would have been inconvenienced half a day or less,” he said. “The city of Snoqualmie stepped up and took care of everything and paid the decryption code. Snoqualmie went heads and shoulders above what our expectations were, they honored their part of the contract and more.”

Chief Burke said neighboring fire departments were also targeted through a mailing list of various chiefs in the region.

The district now has a backup system up and running and is training employees on Internet safety.