What happens when a city is knocked offline by hackers

DEL RIO, Texas — City officials in the sleepy West Texas border town of Del Rio arrived to work on Jan. 10 to an ominous situation — their computers didn’t work.

At first, the internet appeared not to be functioning, but the city’s IT department soon confirmed that their entire system had been encrypted and hackers were asking for a ransom to unlock it.

Hard numbers are hard to come by, but ransomware, as it’s known, appeared to enjoy a banner year in 2018. Cities like Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina were locked out of their data systems for weeks. “People who aren’t computer savvy don’t realize how big of a deal it is,” Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano told VICE News.

As of now, the city of Del Rio is still locked out of its servers, though Lozano said the town’s insurance successfully negotiated with the hackers to get its data back. Officials wouldn’t say how much ransom was paid, but the town’s IT department is keeping the city offline as a preventative measure until they determine if they should rebuild the system from the ground up.

This segment originally aired January 29, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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