A ransomware attack has forced officials in a 345,000-person New Jersey county to switch off their computers and set up temporary Gmail accounts so the public can email key agencies such as the health, emergency and sheriff’s departments.
The hacking incident in central New Jersey’s Somerset County, which began Tuesday, has disrupted services that rely on the county’s databases, including accessing land and probate records, the county said in a statement.
The ransomware attack has only affected email and IT systems; phone lines and emergency service systems are all working properly, the county said.
The hack also affected a web form through which residents can request replacement mail-in ballots for New Jersey’s primary election next month. Residents can still call to request a replacement ballot or do so in-person, Nathan Rudy, Somerset County’s director of public information, told CNN.
Rudy said it would be “at least until the end of the week” before the county’s digital infrastructure would be fully functional after the hack.
It was unclear who was responsible for the hack. Rudy said the FBI was investigating the incident. CNN has requested comment from the FBI.
The Somerset County hack is only the latest ransomware incident to hamper local government services in the US, which often struggle with resources to counter hacks. It marks the 22nd US state or local government to be hit by ransomware in 2022, according to Allan Liska, senior intelligence analyst at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future
In his first year in office, President Joe Biden exhorted Russian President Vladimir Putin to rein in cybercriminals operating from Russian soil, some of whom had allegedly conducted high-profile hacks of US critical infrastructure.
While Russian authorities in January detained someone that US officials believe was responsible for the 2021 ransomware attack on US fuel transporter Colonial Pipeline, any bilateral progress on the issue appears to have stalled after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With many alleged ransomware operatives living in Ukraine and Russia, the jury is still out on how the war in Ukraine has affected the ransomware ecosystem.
Senior National Security Agency official Rob Joyce said Wednesday that there had been a decline in ransomware attacks against US organizations since the war began. But gathering authoritative data on ransomware attacks is difficult, as many victims do not report hacks. And US officials and private analysts have warned that the threat of ransomware will remain.