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22 Texas towns hit by coordinated ransomware attack

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The latest of several recent ransomware attacks on US municipalities

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

More US towns have been hit by ransomware. Last Friday, 22 small Texas towns were affected by a coordinated ransomware attack that appears to have been pulled off by “one single threat actor,” according to the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR). A DIR spokesperson told The New York Times that the majority of the targets were specific departments in the towns In a statement to Gizmodo, the Texas DIR declined to specify which towns or departments, saying it did not want to make the “impacted entities” a target for other bad actors.

Borger, Texas and Keene, Texas have announced that they were affected by the attack. The city of Borger says it is unable to access birth and death certificates or take utility payments, and NPR reports that Keene is unable to process utility payments. It seems that many of the other systems targeted by the attack remain offline, but the Texas DIR said in an update posted yesterday that some of the departments impacted are “back to operations as usual.”

The mayor of Keene told NPR that hackers have asked for a total ransom of $2.5 million to unlock the files, but the mayor also said that Keene will not be paying up. A DIR spokesperson told NPR that he was “not aware” of any of the affected towns paying the ransom. NPR reports that the FBI and Texas cybersecurity experts are investigating the attack, and the DIR confirmed in yesterday’s update that the attack is part of “an ongoing federal investigation.”

On its surface, a coordinated attack by one actor that has brought departments in 22 towns offline is certainly worrisome, especially given the increasing number of ransomware attacks on city governments, with more than 22 cities targeted this year. But since we don’t know the full extent of the damage to affected agencies or if they’ll pay up, we’ll need to wait for the Texas DIR to share more about the attack before we know how successful it was.

Update August 21st, 3:04PM ET: The Texas Department of Information Resources now says that 22 towns were affected, not 23, which we have updated throughout the story. We have also added new details about how Borger, Texas and Keene, Texas were affected by the attack, comments from the mayor of Keene about the ransom, and confirmation from the Texas DIR that this attack is part of a federal investigation.