Experts discuss 2017 hack that froze Mecklenburg County government servers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time, tech leaders spoke Wednesday about last year's case where hackers froze Mecklenburg County government servers and demanded a ransom.

County leaders decided not to pay the $24,000 ransom to unlock the servers. Instead, workers had to put in long hours recreating all of the files.

The scale and seriousness of the attack were clear at Wednesday's meeting. Channel 9 gained rare access to a regular meeting between the FBI and the private sector that was focused on preventing hostile attacks.

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"Having that framework that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, you cannot overstate the importance of it," said Russ Ollis with Mecklenburg County.

Cyber criminals demanded Bitcoin to unlock the infected servers. We learned the county was actually very prepared to respond to the ransomware attack because they drilled the scenario with cyber firm Fortalice Solutions only weeks before.

"One of the scenarios in that tabletop exercise was ransomware. So, they had already thought about do we pay? Do we not pay?" said Vince Crisler with Fortalice Solutions

The county didn't blink and refused to pay the ransom - a practice the FBI encouraged every business to follow at Wednesday's meeting.

"We encourage them not to pay in these instances because paying only further perpetuates that criminal activity," explained Brian Cyprian with the FBI.

We asked Mecklenburg County how much the ransomware attack ended up costing taxpayers and the economic impact it had on businesses. A spokesperson told us the county wasn’t able to provide a dollar amount.

We did hear again that Mecklenburg County will be allocating more money to enhance their cyber security going forward.

"There’s a certain amount of spend that’s necessary to make sure that you’re making it hard for the attackers to win," said Crisler.

It's not just government agencies and businesses that are vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Private citizens are too. Experts say you can protect yourself by making sure your computer is current with all software updates, installing antivirus software, and making backups of your data.

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