Cyber attack targets ONWASA; company refusing to pay ransom


    In the wake of Hurricane Florence disaster, ONWASA, a water utility company has been specifically targeted by cyber criminals.

    ONWASA provides water and sewer service to all of Onslow County except Jacksonville residents.

    According to a press release, ONWASA's internal computer system, including servers and personal computers, have been subjected to a sophisticated ransomware attack.

    The attack has left the utility with limited computer capabilities. CEO Jeffrey Hudson said customer information was not compromised in the attack. However, many other databases must be recreated in their entirety.

    ONWASA is working with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the state of North Carolina and several technology security companies. They are also receiving help from N.C. Senator Harry Brown and N.C. Senator Thom Tillis.

    Hudson said he believes the attack was a targeted one because the hackers chose a local government that has recently been ransacked by a natural disaster. The hackers struck at 3 a.m. on Saturday -- a time Hudson says was their most vulnerable.

    The attack is similar in nature to the one experienced in Mecklenburg County last year.

    Hudson said the damage the attack caused could take weeks or even months to fix. According to ONWASA, the company had multiple layers of computer protection in place, including firewalls and malware/anti-virus software. The defenses of the computer systems at the main office were penetrated.

    ONWASA has received one email from the cyber criminals, who may be based in a foreign country. The email is consistent with ransomware attacks of other governments and corporations. Ransom monies would be used to fund criminal, and perhaps terrorist activities in other countries. There is no expectation that a ransom payment would stop future attacks.

    The cyber attackers are demanding payment to decrypt everything that was stolen. ONWASA said it will not "negotiate with criminals nor bow to their demands." Instead, ONWASA will rebuild its databases and computer systems from the ground up.

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