Hackers seized database from City of Detroit, demanded $800k in bitcoin

AFP Photo / Karen Bleier
​Hackers seized a digital database from the city of Detroit earlier this year and then demanded they receive a ransom in bitcoin, Mayor Mike Duggan said this week, but the city balked and ultimately the hijackers were unsuccessful with their request.

Duggan, who was elected last year to lead the Motor City after a headline-making bankruptcy filing, explained at a conference on Monday this week that hackers had asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency after compromising a city database back in April. The pilfered database wasn’t used or needed by the city, however, The Detroit News reported, so the ransom was never paid.

Speaking at the North American International Cyber Summit, Duggan said the incident from earlier this year made him realize that sensitive information needs to be stored more securely.

“It was a good warning sign for us,” he told his audience at the conference, Detroit News journalist Holly Foumier reported.

According to the Associated Press, Duggan said the hackers asked for 2,000 bitcoins after seizing the database, worth roughly $803,000.

Unfortunately for the city, such attacks aren’t isolated, either. The Michigan state government suffers around 500,000 computer attacks every day, the AP reported, and Duggan believes that improvements are needed across the board.

“It was pretty disturbing what I found,” the mayor said with respect to the type of technology the city currently relies on. “I found the Microsoft Office system we had was about 10 years old and couldn’t sync the calendar to my phone.”

“We’re in the early stages of ramping up,” he said. “The stakes in play in the state and in the country are enormous.”

Another factor involved in making that determination, Duggan added, occurred when an unnamed person involved in last year’s historic bankruptcy was victimized in a cyberattack that involved money being removed from that individual’s personal banking account.

“The timing was such that he certainly thought it was a political agenda,” the mayor said.

With regards to the “ransomware” that could have cost the city of Detroit an entire database — or arguably worse, more money than Motown could afford — other targets have been impacted as well by similar campaigns as of late in which victims are asked to pay with bitcoin to regain control of seized data: earlier this month, the Dickson County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee acknowledged that it paid around $500 in bitcoin to a hacker who cracked into a server used by the law enforcement agency and also demanded ransom.

At Monday’s cyber conference, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder warned that such attacks may only increase in severity over time as more assets rely on being connected to the web.

“Twenty years from now, your car is going to be driving itself,” Foumier quoted him as saying. “The vehicle will be talking to other vehicles, making decisions on when to stop and when to brake.”

“The risks we have today are only going to dramatically increase,” he said.