City takes swift action after ransomware infects HFD computers

The city has successfully removed malicious software that infected computers at the Honolulu Fire Department Monday.

KHON2 was the first to tell you about this Monday night in our 10 p.m. newscast.

On Tuesday, we learned how the computers got infected, and what protected the city from having its information wiped out.

In the age of technology, scammers and hackers are finding new things to hold hostage. For those affected by ransomware, it’s the files on your computer. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

That’s what infected several HFD computers Monday. Two or three HFD employees used city computers to read their personal email using a web browser. The city says emails that are sent and received through its system usually go through an extensive filtering process. As soon as HFD identified the problem, it took the administrative computers offline.

Tim Caminos with Supergeeks says ransomware isn’t going anywhere any time soon. He sees people come in with the problem about three or four times a week. “It’s evolving so the people behind it they are pretty diligent in keeping up with the changes in technology changes in antivirus programs.”

Because of safeguards in place, the city says it did not pay the ransom. Aside from installing antivirus software on its computers, the city’s IT director says all servers are backed up daily, and snapshots are kept so the state of a directory can be recreated on any given day. City employees are not allowed to use government computers for personal activities.

Caminos says staying away from unfamiliar links is important for avoiding this kind of virus: “The two easiest ways — one is good browsing habits. Don’t fall for click bait on social platforms, and the second is really just keep your machine updated with antivirus and anti-malware programs.”

The city said Wednesday that the virus was successfully removed, the computers were given the all-clear, and systems were running normally. The matter has been referred to the FBI.

The city’s IT department will be warning users each time they venture on to an unapproved email website. For those who don’t listen to the warning, they will be personally contacted.

HFD says its emergency response was not affected by the virus.

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