Atlanta has shut down courts and people there can't pay their bills online because of a crippling cyberattack the mayor has called 'a hostage situation'

  • A ransomware attack against Atlanta has forced the city to shut down municipal courts and has prevented residents from paying certain bills online.
  • Hackers encrypted some of the city government's vital data and computer systems. They're demanding officials pay them a ransom of $51,000 in bitcoin.
  • Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called the incident "a hostage situation."

It's been a week since hackers launched a ransomware attack against the city of Atlanta, and local officials are still grappling with its effects.

"We are dealing with a hostage situation," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement.

Jeanette Manfra, head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security:

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Jeanette Manfra, head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security
Jeanette Manfra, Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity at the DHS, listens to testimonies about Russian interference in U.S. elections to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert looks toward Assistant Secretary at Homeland Security's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra as they hold a briefing publicly blaming North Korea for unleashing the so-called WannaCry cyber attack, at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Jeanette Manfra, Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity at the DHS, testifies about Russian interference in U.S. elections to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Jeanette Manfra, chief cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), speaks about the Wannacry virus as they announce that the US believes North Korea was behind the cyber attack, during a briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, December 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: (L-R) Acting Director of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division Sam Liles, Homeland Security Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra, and Assistant Director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap testify during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee June 21, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Russia's cyber efforts against our election systems in 2016, our response efforts, potential threats to our 2018 and 2020 elections, and how we are postured to protect against those threats.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert and Assistant Secretary at Homeland Security's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra hold a briefing publicly blaming North Korea for unleashing the so-called WannaCry cyber attack, at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Acting Director of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division Sam Liles (L) and Homeland Security Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra (R) testify during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee June 21, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Russia's cyber efforts against our election systems in 2016, our response efforts, potential threats to our 2018 and 2020 elections, and how we are postured to protect against those threats.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: Acting Director of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division Sam Liles (L) and Homeland Security Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra (R) testify during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee June 21, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Russia's cyber efforts against our election systems in 2016, our response efforts, potential threats to our 2018 and 2020 elections, and how we are postured to protect against those threats.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Jeanette Manfra, acting director of undersecretary, national protection and programs directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on more Russian companies and individuals as well as separatists in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine as President�Donald Trump�held White House talks with Ukrainian leader�Petro Poroshenko. Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jeanette Manfra, acting director of undersecretary, national protection and programs directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), center, speaks while Bill Priestap, assistant director of counterintelligence for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), right, and Samuel Liles, acting director of the cyber division with the office of intelligence and analysis department at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), listen during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Senators on the Intelligence Committee pressed administration officials Wednesday to disclose more about the extent of Russian hacking attempts during last year's election after the government disclosed that 21 states had been targeted.Photographer: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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On Thursday, municipal courts were closed again and residents were unable to pay their traffic tickets or water bills online. In some cases, employees had to fill out urgent forms and reports by hand, CNN reported.

The city allowed its employees to turn on their work computers and printers for the first time on Wednesday, although officials warned that some computers may still be affected.

In a ransomware attack, hackers place malware on a computer — or system of computers — that restricts access, and then demand payment to undo it.

The culprits have demanded the city of Atlanta pay them $51,000 in bitcoin to unlock the government's encrypted systems. Bottoms would not say whether the city would meet their request.

Atlanta officials — along with local law enforcement, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and Secret Service — are said to be working round-the-clock on the matter to investigate whether any government data or anybody's personal information was compromised.

An information portal has been set up on the city government's website to keep residents and employees updated on the latest developments of the hack.

Officials from Atlanta Information Management, the city's technology department, realized the city had been attacked on March 22.

As a result, officials said, "some city data is encrypted and customers are not able to access city applications." This has mostly prevented people from using online applications to pay bills and access court-related information.

Although Atlanta officials have not yet identified those behind the attack, an Atlanta-based security firm called Dell SecureWorks, which is helping the city investigate the attack, pointed to a group called SamSam, according to The New York Times.

It is not clear who is part of the group or where it is based.

On Monday, Mayor Bottoms held a news conference to reassure the public that the city was doing everything in its power to restore its systems, but cautioned people against taking the matter lightly.

"I just want to make the point that this is much bigger than a ransomware attack," Bottoms said. "This is really an attack on our government, which means it's an attack on all of us."

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SEE ALSO: Hackers are holding the city of Atlanta’s computer systems for ransom, causing massive outages — and anyone who has conducted business with the city is at risk

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