Atlanta still battling effects of ransomware attack, expert says hack should be national 'wakeup call'

A week after a ransomware cyberattack paralyzed the City of Atlanta’s computer system, some services are still tied up.

Thursday morning, the Municipal Court of Atlanta announced that all court dates scheduled for the day would be reset. The city is still unable to process payments for traffic tickets and water bills.

Other services are being conducted with pen and paper.

“It was a sustainable model until we got computer systems,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told reporters during a light-hearted moment at a news conference this week. “For some of our younger employees, it will be a nice exercise in good penmanship.”

The city has hired SecureWorks, an Atlanta-based information security firm, to restore its computers and beef them up against future attacks.

Municipalities in general are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks because they’re expected to provide 24/7 online services at minimal cost to taxpayers, according to Andrew Green, an information security lecturer at Kennesaw State University.

“They’re expected to do all of this with a shoestring budget,” Green told Fox News. “And so, this is a wakeup call, potentially, that cities need to start looking at how seriously they’re taking their own cybersecurity posture.”

Atlanta city officials have yet to decide whether to pay a $51,000 ransom that the hackers demanded in order to unlock data that was encrypted during the attack.

Payment, if still an option this late into the attack, would theoretically restore the city’s files instantly, but put city leaders in the awkward position of negotiating with criminals. If they refuse to pay the ransom, each desktop and laptop connected to the city’s computer system will have to be manually restored, causing days — perhaps weeks — of additional delays in services for residents.

Downtown Atlanta is seen from the SkyView Atlanta, a 200-foot (61-meter) tall Ferris wheel with 42 gondolas, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, July 18, 2013. The Ferris wheel, which was previously located in Paris, Switzerland, and Pensacola, Florida, opened to the public in Atlanta on July 16. Picture taken on July 18, 2013.   REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry  (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT CITYSPACE SOCIETY) - TM4E97L10UG01

A week after a ransomware cyberattack paralyzed the City of Atlanta’s computer system, some services are still tied up. Thursday morning, the Municipal Court of Atlanta announced that all court dates scheduled for the day would be reset. The city is still unable to process payments for traffic tickets and water bills.  (REUTERS)

“They’re in a no-win situation,” Green said. “They’re gonna end up choosing what is the least painful of all bad solutions. There is no good solution to this. They’re gonna get criticized if they pay. They’re gonna get criticized if they don’t pay.”

Although the ransomware attack continues to lock many city files, Bottoms said there is no evidence to suggest the breach compromised any personal information on employees, residents or customers.

“But again, I just remind the public to continue to be vigilant,” Bottoms said.

The cyberattack did not affect the city’s 911 system or airport. However, as a precaution, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the world’s busiest — has temporarily shut down its public WiFi system and disabled features on its website.

Fox News producer Chip Bell contributed to this story.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.