Ransomware cripples municipal computers in Texarkana

“We are certainly operating on a manual basis at this point”
Cyber security expert on ransomware
Cyber security expert on ransomware
Updated: Dec. 7, 2020 at 4:09 PM CST
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TEXARKANA (KSLA) — Computers are locked and idle in municipal offices on both sides of the state line in Texarkana.

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“This is criminal. This is horrible for someone or some agency to attack a municipality in such a way that essentially nullifies daily operations,” said Kenny Haskin, city manager for Texarkana, Ark.

The twin Arkansas and Texas cities are battling what officials describe as a major ransomware attack that targeted and infected municipal computers over the weekend.

“It’s a pretty ugly and nasty virus. It’s probably one of the worst viruses you can attack, if you will,” Haskin said.

The siege has crippled the cities’ access to things like financials, including payroll and bill paying.

But employees should know that payroll is going to happen this week, said Lisa Thompson, spokeswoman for Texarkana, Texas.

“Most of our jobs can go back to pencil and paper. We are doing things the old-fashioned way, but we are holding steady right now.”

The computer problems also are not affecting 911 services, city leaders said.

But conducting other business with the cities might be slow the next several days.

“We are certainly operating on a manual basis at this point,” Haskin said.

The Texarkana Water Utilities Department, which provides IT services to both sides of Texarkana, is working to resolve the damage caused by the ransomware attack.

And officials are trying to determine who is responsible for the cyber assault.

“It looks as though it is coming in from Russia, but we don’t know that for a fact,” Haskin said.

This is not the first cyber attack on public computers in the ArkLaTex. It was about 1.5 years ago that malware targeted three public school districts in North Louisiana — Sabine, Morehouse and Ouachita.

That led to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declaring his first statewide cyber security emergency. In response, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness activated its crisis action team and the Emergency Services Function-17 and began providing technical support to the school systems.