GRASS VALLEY, Calif. (KTXL) — City officials in Grass Valley confirmed its information systems were hacked Wednesday morning.
Police say hackers copied city data and threatened to post it on the web unless the city paid a ransom.
City leaders said it was a privacy risk they just weren’t willing to take so they decided to fork over the cash.
“Local governments have become a target and a trend for these types of cyberattacks,” said Chief Alex Gammelgard with the Grass Valley Police.
Grass Valley police say hackers contacted them in late June by what was believed to be a foreign actor and threatened to publish private city data they illegally obtained, giving city leaders a choice to either pay up or put personal information at risk of release.
“It was not an easy decision,” Gammelgard.
Grass Valley ultimately decided that a gamble on privacy was not a bet worth taking and paid off their cybersecurity attackers with insurance dollars.
“If we didn’t pay a small ransom and that data were dumped on the world wide web, then all of the people that we interacted with would be at risk of identity theft, loss of privacy, et cetera,” said Grass Valley attorney Michael Colatuono. “One of the factors that weighed heavily for the city council was if this was something we could do to protect the people that we serve.”
But even though the hackers got their ransom, what’s to stop them from leaking the information anyway?
“There’s a strong incentive to make good on their promise not to release this information for the simple reason of their engagement in this criminal enterprise,” Gammelgard said. “If they were to violate that, it would reduce their bargaining position moving forward.”
Authorities say once they noticed the breach they took immediate action to secure private material and pledged to make themselves less vulnerable to future attacks
“We’re doubling down on strengthening our systems in light of this experience. It remains a very dangerous world out there,” Colatuono said.
The city wouldn’t say how much they paid in ransom money, in part because they don’t want it to incentivize other hackers.
FOX40 was told the money for the payment will not come from taxpayers.
In the meantime, city leaders are working with the FBI, other police departments and cybersecurity experts to track down the culprits and prevent it from happening again.
Last month, the FBI issued a warning to residents after a local business and community college in the Sacramento area were targeted by ransomware attacks.