ONWASA victim of cyber attack; utility refuses to pay ransom

ONSLOW COUNTY, NC (WITN) - The FBI is investigating a cyber attack on a public water and sewer system here in Eastern Carolina.

ONWASA says it was attacked around 3:00 a.m. Saturday when malware launched an RYUK virus.

At the time, an IT staff member was working and saw the attack. The employee immediately began disconnecting their system from the internet, but the crypto-virus spread quickly, encrypting databases and files.

The utility says earlier this month it began experiencing persistent virus attacks, so ONWASA brought in outside security specialists.

ONWASA says it has received one email from the hackers, and the utility has refused to pay them to restore the files.

The utility says customer information was not compromised in the attack, but many other databases must be recreated in their entirety.

ONWASA's chief executive officer says this cyber attack may be related to the timing of Hurricane Florence and Tropical storm Michael.

"The level of coincidence is too great for hackers somewhere on earth to pick a community of heroes, the home of the Marine Corps, with 3 major military installations, picking and targeting a critical component of infrastructure, the water system, immediately following two storms," Jeff Hudson said.

ONWASA, which provides water and sewer service to all of Onslow County except Jacksonville, says actual service will not be impacted. It does say that billing, new service orders, and other office functions will be done manually until their computer systems are restored.

Last December, Mecklenburg County refused to pay cybercriminals after an attack there virtually halted government services.