Hacked: Lambton officials say cyber attackers were looking for ransom

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Heather Wright/The Independent

Hackers looking for a ransom were behind a massive computer problem at the County of Lambton, but officials aren’t saying how much money they actually wanted.

Lambton’s Solicitor, Stephane Thiffeault, told The Independent June 4, the servers crashed May 28. Employees were left without email communication and all departments across the system were having a hard time accessing information.

It took the IT people until May 31 to bring email back on line. And he says, while it’s working, it is significantly slower than usual.

The breach also affected municipal governments which rely on the county server including Plympton-Wyoming and Warwick.

Tuesday, Thiffeault confirmed the problems were caused by a hacker.
“It’s a cyber incident and it’s an individual who is touching our Information Technology Network,” says Thiffeault.

“Typically, these things are done in order to to extort dollars and cents -absolutely; but at the end of the day, I can’t comment further than that, because the investigation is ongoing.”

Thiffeault says the investigation is being handled by the OPP and a firm which specializes in cyber attacks.

“We have specialist outside firms who handle that. We wouldn’t negotiate that on our own. We just don’t have the experience. So, at this point in time, we’re waiting for that process to evolve as why we’re not in the position to provide further information, because again, we’d be speculating at this point in time.”

The county believes none of the personal data in their system has been shared through the hack. And systems such as Lambton Public Health’s vaccine booking system were not impacted.

Hacking of municipal bodies has become more common. In 2018, several Ontario municipalities were the victim of hacking including Wasaga Beach and Midland, prompting the OPP to issue a warning to them. In 2019, Stratford paid hackers $75,000 to end an attack and Woodstock shelled out $660,000 to the hackers.

Thiffeault wouldn’t reveal how much ransom the hackers were looking for nor did he have a handle yet on what the crash cost the county including the security expert.

“There’s obviously been some overtime, but other than that, there has been no estimation just yet of the dollars and cents.”

Thiffeault did say Lambton has insurance which will cover the costs of the cyber attack.
While the investigation is ongoing, Thiffeault says it’s not clear whether the people involved will ever be found.

“I’m not aware from any sources, about any data or statistics as to the frequency that they can track down individuals … all I understand is that cyber security incidents are gaining in terms of prevalence in Ontario, Canada, North America.”