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A county located in Ohio has suspended its IT system after a ransomware attack affected computers inside its government center.

Licking County officials first discovered there was a problem when they couldn’t open files saved to some government computers. When they rebooted those machines, they saw a ransom note and contacted the IT department. IT personnel launched an investigation into the incident and determined that ransomware had infected more than a thousand computers in the county’s government center on 31 January. Out of abundant caution, the county decided to suspend its computer and phone systems.

Announcement posted on Licking County office doors. (Source: Licking County Commissioners on Facebook)

County business proceeds in the aftermath of the attack. For instance, 9-1-1 dispatch continues to take calls. But it’s certainly not business as usual.

As County Commissioner Tim Bubb told 10TV:

“They are operating like the old days you have a piece of paper, dry erase board and you have your radios to dispatch so we haven’t missed a beat in terms of safety.”

In the absence of computers, dispatchers also can’t automatically pinpoint the location of an emergency call. That means they can’t send help to an address if an emergency caller becomes unresponsive or hangs up. This jeopardizes the efficiency of emergency services.

Meanwhile, county auditor Mike Smith told Newark Advocate that his office can accept tax and dog license payments but can’t record the payments in the computers:

“When you’re computer dependent, especially government, it makes it difficult to do much. Appraisers are in the field because they can’t do anything on the computer. We’ve let a handful of people go (home early). Their sole function is to do data entry and can’t do anything. If this goes on for many days, it’s going to be difficult to come up with work.”

Neither Bubb nor any other county official has elaborated on how much the ransom demand is and whether the county intends to pay it. In a Facebook post, however, Bubb said IT staff members are reviewing the county’s backups as a means of recovery.

News of this attack comes about a week after a Texas police department lost digital evidence and other files dating back to 2009 as a result of a ransomware attack.