Third of Baltimore employees' computer access restored after major ransomware attack

Police email and the shared lab system is now back online and prosecutors will look at re-charging cases that were dropped because of the computer issues

By Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — A third of Baltimore employees have regained access to their computers after the ransomware attack and 90% are expected to be back online this week, officials said Tuesday.

And city officials announced two new workarounds to pay water bills and traffic tickets.

Sheryl Goldstein told reporters at a City Hall news briefing that the IT office is working to verify the identities of the city’s 10,000 employees and provide them with new login details.

The process of getting workers back online began last week.

At the briefing, senior city officials stressed that many services were working fine despite the ongoing computer problems that began May 7 when hackers locked up the city’s files and demanded a ransom payment for the keys.

“Baltimore is open for business,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said.

City officials have declined to discuss how the hackers gained access to the city’s systems, citing an ongoing federal investigation. Goldstein said the city’s forensic review would be complete in about a month and that officials would determine what information could be shared.

But in a statement Tuesday, members of Maryland’s congressional delegation said they had received a briefing from the National Security Agency and had been told that the evidence suggests the city was initially compromised by phishing. That typically involves hackers tricking a victim into clicking a link that allows them to gain access to a computer network.

”We urge against further speculation until the investigation is complete and look forward to sharing more as we learn more,” the delegation members said.

The statement, and a previous one by Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, conflict with reports in the New York Times that a tool developed by the NSA was used as part of the attack on Baltimore.

At a City Council budget hearing Tuesday afternoon, Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said prosecutions had been affected by the computer issues. Prosecutors lost access to a shared system to keep up to date on drug, DNA and gun test results, Schatzow said. That meant prosecutors had to run back and forth to the police department to get information.

“We have limited resources,” Schatzow said. “When we apply them in inefficient ways, it impacts on cases. But I don’t think anyone can calculate for you a precise number and a precise impact.”

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said he had sat in court and observed prosecutors struggling to reach police officers who were supposed to be testifying.

Schatzow said police email and the shared lab system was now back online and that prosecutors would look at re-charging cases that were dropped because of the computer issues.

While some city systems have remained usable as officials try to recover from the ransomware, bill payments have been disrupted.

City officials said residents now have options for paying water bills and traffic tickets.

Public works director Rudy Chow said water customers can either visit the Abel Wolman Municipal Building downtown to pay an estimated water bill or wait to receive a regular bill covering the period of the computer outage once the system comes back online.

Goldstein said officials have recovered data on traffic tickets back to May 4, which will make it possible for people to pay them even if they have lost their own copy of the ticket. The inability to clear the tickets had made it difficult for some people to renew their drivers licenses.

Erin Sher, the city’s procurement officer, said the city had spent more than $1 million on new hardware and was using some existing contracts to provide help with the recovery. The city also has used emergency contracts, which officials have not yet publicly disclosed.

In all the cost of the ransomware has been estimated at $18 million — a combination of a projected $10 million of direct costs to restore the city’s systems and $8 million in lost or deferred revenue. Finance Director Henry Raymond said Tuesday that some of the $8 million might be recovered.

Despite the costs, Raymond said he did not expect the ransomware to cause a “material impact” on the city’s finances with a new budget year beginning July 1.

©2019 The Baltimore Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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