ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — The St. Lucie County tax collector is blaming a ransomware attack for the recent shutdown of its computer system.
St. Lucie County Tax Collector Chris Craft confirmed the attack, which shuttered his agency’s computer system in late October.
Despite the hack, he’s reassuring taxpayers that their personal information was not taken.
“Anytime we take your driver’s license information, car registration, that’s all stored on a state server, not housed here,” Craft said. “We’ve contacted the state. It’s 100% secure,” Craft said. “On the credit card side, that’s all handled with our credit card processing vendor. We’ve contacted them. They looked at their system, and they’re 100% secure as well.”
“We see things like this go through waves,” cybersecurity expert Alan Crowetz of InfoStream said.
Crowetz said the new wave of hacking is targeting government agencies.
The last wave of ransomware attacks targeting local governments hit Riviera Beach, Palm Springs and Stuart.
“Ransomware is kind of a shotgun effect,” Crowetz said. “You put a lot of hooks in the water, you throw some bait out there and you see who nibbles.”
Crowetz said hackers are said to be using BlackCat ransomware — a program developed in Russia. He said it’s available on the dark web to anyone.
In addition to the St. Lucie Tax Collector’s Office, the Pensacola News Journal reported that the BlackCat ransomware was used to hack the First Judicial Circuit Court located in northwest Florida.
The St. Lucie County’s Tax Collector won’t say if hackers demanded money.
State law prohibits government agencies from paying a ransom for cyberattacks.
But even if no personal data was stolen, Crowetz said there is a cost when workers have to toil around the clock to get systems back online.
“This is a very expensive situation,” remarked Crowetz. “The amount of labor involved that goes on for days like this is immense.”
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in 20 years of public service,” Craft said.