County attacked by ransomware

‘This attack was widespread and complex’

GENESEE COUNTY — Genesee County municipal offices are still dealing with a ransomware attack on its computer systems that caused technological issues and setbacks.

The county discovered the attack Tuesday, April 2 and it persists to this day.

“The attack held hostage our files and demanded payment for their release,” said the Genesee County Board of Commissioners in an official Facebook post on April 2. “Genesee County has paid no fee for the release of information and no information has been compromised.”

Norton, an internet security center, describes ransomware as a type of malware or malicious software. Hackers use it to encrypt someone’s entire hard drive, which locks the user out the system. Ransomware can also encrypt specific information on a computer, such as word documents, photos and more.

Hackers will demand the owner of the computer pay a fee in order to get their computer unencrypted.

“It’s really an indication about how neglectful Genesee County has been in implementing policy and investing in new technology,” said John Gleason, Genesee County clerk. “Now there’s a terrible consequence to pay.”

He said the hackers demanded $4 million. Hundreds of thousands of documents have been affected, and Gleason said there’s talk about the potential that not all of them will be recovered.

The clerk’s system, which includes vital documents such as birth and death records, are still shut down.

“That’s really critical. We know there’s been hacks all over the country,” he said.

This past fall, the Register of Deeds office received new software. This system has been unaffected by the hack. But the clerk’s system, including other county systems, was more vulnerable to hacks because it hasn’t been updated since 2000.

“Almost two decades. That’s how antiquated that process is,” he said. “We need to establish a policy for upgrades and put a firewall behind these public records. There’s a lot of personal information out there.”

The Michigan State Police is investigating.

Starting Tuesday, April 9, the county expects regular operations to be working in the treasurer’s office and equalization department, according to a Monday April 8, Facebook post by the Board of Commissioners.

“Both departments are in the process of verifying that the data being restored is accurate and dependable for our residents. The return to regular operations for Treasurers and Equalization is in addition to the restoration of the county email system as well as the fax servers,” the statement reads. “We continue to work on restoring regular operations in all other departments. Please call ahead prior to coming to our offices for service.

“This attack was widespread and complex. This continues to be very fluid situation with constant changes. We will continue to give updates on this page as they become available.”

Residents were unable to pay their taxes at the treasurer’s office for a few days, and email services were out among other issues. Web services on are currently working. Court records for the 67th District Court and 7th Circuit Court are available along with property information, public deeds and more.

In 2013, Gleason filed a lawsuit against the county and claimed that the commissioners were “acting in bad faith by cutting (his) budget to a point that will impact the services he needs to provide …” This case was settled.

He filed another lawsuit in 2016 with claims that the county misspent $6.5 million it was legally required to give Gleason’s office for technology upgrades. He rejected an offer to the settle.

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