DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) — An international cyber hacker group is threatening to publish sensitive information it claims it stole from the Dallas County computer system unless the county pays a ransom by Friday.
County officials confirmed a cyber incident was detected on Oct. 19. The county hired outside cybersecurity experts to help contain it and officials said it prevented any files from being encrypted.
But while Dallas County said its computer system are secure to use, nothing was mentioned in an online update from the county about data that was potentially extracted during the cyberattack.
Cybersecurity sources told the CBS News Texas I-Team that hackers infiltrated the Dallas County computer system likely through a phishing email and then extracted data.
Unlike a ransomware attack where files are encrypted, this attack did not encrypt any data—meaning the county's computer system can still operate as normal. However, the threat of publishing any potential stolen data can be used to extort payment.
The hacker organization, Play, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Since June 2022, the group has been linked to hundreds of cyberattacks. Most recently, the group has been targeting government institutions.
Cybersecurity expert Scott Schober said government agencies have become a popular target for cyberattacks because their systems contain massive amounts of valuable and personal data and because government agencies often pay.
Schober said government agencies pay in nearly one out of every three ransomware attacks, but those who pay in hopes to end the threat can find themselves in a vicious cycle.
"When you pay, you go onto another list that you are an easy target," explained Schober. "'Hey, this agency or this group paid the ransom so let's go after them again but with a different strain of ransomware this time that can be more crippling.'"
In April, hackers stole thousands of files and crippled City of Dallas system for weeks in a ransomware attack. In November of last year, hackers also hit the Dallas Central Appraisal District. Also last year, a cybersecurity breach in Dallas ISD compromised the information of 800,000 students.
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