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Second Florida City Pays Ransom to Cybercriminals

Days after ransomware crippled the city of about 12,000 residents, officials of Lake City agreed this week

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Florida, Ransom, Cybercriminals
A laptop displays a message after being infected by ransomware as part of a worldwide cyberattack on June 27, 2017 in Geldrop, Netherlands. VOA

A second small city in Florida has agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom to cybercriminals who disabled its computer system.

Days after ransomware crippled the city of about 12,000 residents, officials of Lake City agreed this week to meet the hackers’ ransom demand: 42 Bitcoin or about $460,000.

Last week, River Bench, in Palm Beach County, paid $600,000 in Bitcoin to retrieve its data. In both cases, most of the money will be paid by insurance companies.

On Thursday, Key Biscayne, a third Florida city, said it too had been targeted by a cyberattack. But city officials said it had managed to restore most of its computer systems by late Wednesday.

Florida, Ransom, Cybercriminals
FILE – A screenshot shows a WannaCry ransomware demand, provided by cybersecurity firm Symantec, in Mountain View, California, May 15, 2017. VOA

Ransomware, a type of malicious software designed to deny access to a computer system or data until a ransom is paid, is becoming an epidemic in the public sector.

The cybersecurity firm Recorded Future reported in May that 170 city, county or state government systems have been attacked since 2013.

Ransomware attacks are not limited to small cities. Baltimore, a city of more than 600,000, has been fighting a cyber breach since May. The city refused to pay the $80,000 ransom that the hackers demanded. Instead, it has spent $18 million on data recovery.

Similarly, the city of Atlanta spent nearly $17 million after it was targeted in March 2018.

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In November, the FBI indicted two Iranian men in a computer hacking and extortion scheme that targeted cities like Atlanta and Newark, N.J., in addition to the Port of San Diego, the Colorado Department of Transportation and six health care-related organizations. The estimated losses added up to more than $30 million.

WannaCry attack

One of the largest ransomware attacks was WannaCry, which encrypted hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries in a matter of hours. It was the first time that ransomware had spread across the world in what looked like a coordinated cyberattack.

Florida, Ransom, Cybercriminals
A second small city in Florida has agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom to cybercriminals. Pixabay

The British national health care system was especially hard hit by WannaCry, which caused thousands of hospitals to go offline. The attack also affected government systems, railway networks and private companies.

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It was eventually traced to a group of hackers working for North Korea who used stolen highly classified hacking tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency. (VOA)

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Florida Becomes Latest Place to Declare Public Health Emergency Over Hepatitis A

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said

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hepatitis A
FILE - Mexican Health Ministry representatives give migrants free shots for the flu, hepatitis B, tetanus, and preventible children's diseases at the Barretal shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 6, 2018. VOA

Officials have declared a public health emergency over the rising number of hepatitis A cases in Florida, the latest part of the country dealing with outbreaks of the liver disease. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees declared an emergency Thursday to allow the state to spend more on testing and treatment, saying Florida has had more than 2,000 cases since the beginning of the year compared with 548 all of last year. Most have been in central Florida, and health officials are still investigating the sources.

“We urge vaccination and stress the importance of washing your hands regularly,” Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a tweet. Philadelphia also declared an emergency Thursday, and Mississippi officials announced an outbreak in their state earlier in the week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Kentucky has had 4,793 cases since an outbreak there in 2017; since 2018, Ohio has had 3,220 and West Virginia 2,528.

Hepatitis A is a virus that infects the liver and is spread through food, water and objects tainted by feces, or through close contact. Its flulike symptoms, if they occur, usually last about two months. It had been considered a disease that was fading away, thanks in part to vaccines available since 1995. As recently as 2015, fewer than 1,400 cases were reported nationwide.

florida, hepatitis A
Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. Pixabay

But three years ago, a wave of outbreaks among homeless people and illicit drug users began appearing in the U.S. More than two dozen states have reported such outbreaks since then, with more than 22,500 cases, including 221 deaths. Vaccines have typically been administered to children, but many of the new cases have been in adults.

ALSO READ: US Drug Overdose Deaths More Common in Cities than Rural Areas

Florida had 65 new cases in the past two weeks alone, bringing the total to 2,034, state officials said. That compares with 548 last year and 276 cases in 2017. Dr. Eugene Schiff, director for liver diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and former epidemic intelligence service officer for CDC, told The Associated Press that the disease is likely spreading in Florida among homeless and unvaccinated people. He said intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men and the homeless are at a higher risk for the illness.

“Homelessness is a big issue throughout the country and in Florida, and they are at higher risk to spread hepatitis A around,” Dr. Schiff said. “It is more epidemic in the homeless community.” But he noted that the vaccine protects people against the disease: “This is entirely preventable. It is not that this is a virulent strain, there is just a larger risk if people haven’t been vaccinated.” (VOA)