Boise & Garden City

This Ada County agency just suffered a ransomware attack. Now the FBI is investigating

Become cyber savvy...protect against phishing attacks

Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Here's how you can protect yourself from a phishing attack.
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Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Here's how you can protect yourself from a phishing attack.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into a ransomware attack that brought down Ada County Highway District computer systems for about 30 hours this week.

Officials aren’t sure how the attack occurred, Natalie Shaver, a public information specialist for ACHD, said in a phone interview Wednesday. Investigators believe the attackers weren’t able to access the department’s databases, but they aren’t yet sure.

Ransomware attacks typically work by using malware to threaten data stored on a computer system, often by blocking access to it. The FBI says on its website that victims of such attacks often open a legitimate-looking “phishing” emails and then open a link or attachment that appears legitimate but instead contains malicious code.

Typically, attackers request money to give the victim access to their files again, often in the form of cryptocurrency, because hackers consider it anonymous. Payment does not always guarantee a victim will regain access. Shaver said she wasn’t able to share how much attackers requested or how they wanted to receive the payment, but she said ACHD did not pay.

Most employees in ACHD’s Garden City headquarters became aware of the attack about 11:30 Monday morning after members of the department’s information technology department told workers to turn off their computers. The attack had little immediate effect on operations, Shaver said, because many employees work out in the field and those who work in-office were able to work offline.

“No data was lost that we’re aware of,” Shaver said. She also said officials had no knowledge of any information being stolen.

The attack temporarily took down ACHD’s website. It came back online about 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

It is not uncommon for the federal government to get involved in cyber attacks. The FBI and Homeland Security both have divisions tasked with looking into “cyber crime,” as such attacks are called. Ransomware attacks have become increasingly sophisticated over the years.

“It’s a standard practice we have and I believe it’s standard practice on (the FBI’s and Homeland Security’s) end,” Shaver said of reporting such attacks to federal agencies. “We are a government agency. They want to know more about about these attacks.”

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.

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