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Massachusetts police duped by hackers, pay $750 in ransom

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Monday, June 2, 2014, 11:21 p.m.
 

Not even police were immune from Russian hackers' “Cryptolocker” malware.

In October, the hackers locked up computers holding investigative materials, administrative documents and seven years' worth of digital mug shots belonging to the police department in Swansea, a small town in southern Massachusetts, according to a federal complaint unsealed on Monday.

Swansea police found themselves facing a stark choice: risk losing the information forever or pay the hackers' ransom of $750 — payable in electronic bitcoins.

The Swansea police computers were among about 230,000 infected computers worldwide held hostage, including 120,000 in the United States, federal officials said.

With the clock ticking down on a 72-hour deadline, Swansea officials gave in and paid up, Lt. Gregory Ryan told the Tribune-Review. To their surprise, they received the electronic code key to unlock the system.

But police worried the hackers might come back. Swansea started using computers in 1994, and many of the 40 sworn officers and civilians on the force remembered doing everything on paper, he said.

So the entire department went offline while Swansea police improved their computer security. Ryan declined to talk about the changes and referred follow-up questions to the Justice Department.

“You can't make yourself 100 percent foolproof,” Ryan said, “but you just want to make sure your pants don't fall down around your ankles.”

Andrew Conte is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7835 or andrewconte@tribweb.com.

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