Police Department Paid Over $500 Ransom to Recover Encrypted Files


A southern suburban police department paid an over $500 ransom to an unknown hacker to recover access to information from a police computer that the hacker was able to disable, records reveal. The hacker demanded payment via Bitcoin, a digital cryptocurrency frequently used by people participating in nefarious activity online.

“It did not encrypt everything in the police department. It was only that computer and special files, not the whole system,” Harden said. “The hacker did not get the info on the computer but rather shut it down and made it inaccessible,” Harden added.

The Federal Trade Commission as well as the FBI issued a public warning this past year to consumers and companies about the virus/ransomware, saying it is “basically extortion.” A Tennessee sheriff’s office and the city of Detroit have both seen ransomware hackers who sought ransoms in the last year, according to published reports.

Fred Hayes, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and Elwood’s top policeman, said that federal officials have been in touch about it and this kind of thing is getting more and more common. His advice to districts would be to back up their information regularly.

“This is something which several people lately, and when I say lately (I mean) over the past year or two, have been experiencing,” Hayes said. At the Midlothian Police Department, someone had opened an e-mail that included the malware, enabling it to lock the computer down, Harden said.

Midlothian Police Chief, Harold Kaufman, verified the department was hacked but declined to comment.

Neither Kaufman, nor the mayor of Midlothian, nor the village clerk have returned messages inquiring as to whether the hacker would be pursued by the authorities, but Harden said he considered officials would do just that. An FBI spokeswoman would not confirm whether the department made the FBI aware of the event. Officials released a duplicate of the invoice in response to an open records request by the Tribune. The payment also comprised of surcharges and bank fees.

They had to make a tough choice whether or not to obey the demand, Harden said, and decided to because a chase after the hacker might have been more trouble than it is worth.

Harden said he considers the hacker’s activities criminal, which explains the reason why the hacker requested Bitcoin as payment.

All said and done, $572 was paid by the sheriff’s office in Tennessee to a hacker referred to as ‘Nimrod Gruber’ to recover access to its files, according to reports.

“Chiefs across the whole state are concerned with the growing tendency of computer crime,” Alsup said. “Hardly a day goes by that we do not see in both the print and sound media, we hear of cases of computer crime, computer hacking, big organized criminal groups worldwide that are stealing through the use of computers.”

Harden, Midlothian’s IT retailer, said he does work for a law firm that experienced a similar piece of ransomware this past year, and included that it is, “occurring to folks daily.”

“When you tell someone this, it is sort of they are like, ‘What?’ It is kind of a wild scenario,” Harden said. “But it is occurring.”

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“Midlothian Cops Pay Ransom to Retrieve Data from Hacker.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-midlothian-hacker-ransom-met-20150220-story.html

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