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Brooks County pays off hacker with tax dollars after ransomware attack

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jun 21, 2022

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A recent ransomware attack on Brooks County’s Justice of the Peace and district courts, and finance department, cost it more than $37,000.

“I’m very unhappy because of that," said resident Mario Villarreal. "It’s scary — of course it is — for everybody.”

Brooks County Judge Eric Ramos said the attack took place after an employee opened an email containing a link that allowed someone to hack their system.

Luckily, he said, both court systems were backed up.

“The only data that we had that wasn’t backed up was in our auditor's office, where we have our financial software,” Ramos said.

Ramos said the FBI believes the hacker is from overseas. The hacker demanded Brooks County pay them $93,000, but county commissioners negotiated with the hacker and eventually agreed to pay less than half that amount.

“We had determined if we didn’t, then it would take us anywhere from six months to a year to reconstruct our software program,” Ramos said.

Ramos said the money is coming from the county's general fund, but said taxpayers don't need to worry. He said the county will not raise taxes to make up for the loss.

Villareal said when he was filing paperwork with the county, he was told he couldn’t because of the attack.

He said he isn’t too happy about the county commissioners’ decision to pay the hacker.

“The people here need the money, you know? And you can’t just be taking it out of the taxpayers' money and paying it off to somebody else,” he said.

Straight Edge Technology President Douglass Miller said malware attacks have been on the rise since the start of the pandemic.

He said with a lot of people working from home, I.T. departments weren’t able to detect malware on workers’ mobile devices.

“(Hackers) want to look for the softest targets they can try to compromise,” he said.

Miller said there are ways to protect your computer system.

“There are several different platforms out there that can shut a machine off if it becomes infected, and then keep all the other machines safe from the machine that is infected,” he said.

Ramos said this is the type of software the county purchased after the attack, to protect the county’s server.

Resident Anabel Arevalo has faith that the county acted appropriately.

“They know what to do and how to take care of it,” she said.

Ramos said the FBI is still investigating, but so far, they don’t believe residents' or employees’ personal information was comprised. He said the county's system is restored and back up-and-running.