Illinois and Massachusetts Police Pay Bitcoin Ransom to Hackers

Tuesday, April 07, 2015
(AP photo)

Local police departments are becoming increasingly susceptible to ransom demands made by hackers who gain control of law enforcement files and render them inaccessible. In the latest such incidents, police have given in to the demands and paid hundreds of bitcoin in ransom.


In Tewksbury, Massachusetts, police agreed to pay $500 in bitcoin last December to a hacker who infected the department’s electronic files with the CryptoLocker ransomware virus.


The infiltration left the files, including backup copies, locked up and useless.


“It basically rendered us in-operational, with respect to the software we use to run the police department,” Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan told the Tewksbury Town Crier. “It made you feel that you lost control of everything.”


Tewksbury spent several days working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, Massachusetts State Police, and two digital forensics and security firms to regain access to their data without paying the ransom. After failing to restore the files to their original form, officials decided to pay the ransom, while also beefing up their cybersecurity to thwart future hacking attempts.


A similar problem occurred a month later in Illinois, where police in Midlothian discovered their computer system was hacked by someone using the computer virus Cryptoware. Like the files in Tewksbury, those in Midlothian were rendered inaccessible by the hacking. Midlothian police paid a $500 bitcoin ransom to the unidentified hacker.


During the past year, police in Detroit and a sheriff's office in Tennessee were also hit by hackers who demanded ransoms in exchange for returning access to law enforcement files. The Tennessee sheriff's office paid $572 to a hacker called Nimrod Gruber. But officials in Detroit decided not to pay the ransom demanded of them after experts determined the infected database wasn’t important enough to get back.


Bitcoin has become the preferred currency for illegal online activity due to its lack of traceability.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Police Pay Ransom after Cyberterror Attack on Network (by Jayne Miller, Tewksbury Town Crier)

Midlothian Cops Pay Ransom To Retrieve Data from Hacker (by Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune)


Paul 9 years ago
Bitcoin is very traceable through the Blockchain, the public ledger of the network. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies are not properly trained in digital currencies like Bitcoin. And the #1 use of illegal activity online are credit cards (identification theft).

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