A roadside stand in Middle Georgia. (Meera Subramanian / InsideClimate News)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Malware disables Georgia Agriculture Department website

Someone infected the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s computer network with malware this week, bringing down the agency’s websites and seeking to extort a ransom payment, according to the department.

The department remained offline Friday, the third day since malware spread throughout its network, spokesman Alec Asbridge said.

An email demanded money in exchange for removing the infection, but the department plans to restore its systems without making a payment, Asbridge said. The problems, which also prevented agency employees from using email, should be repaired sometime next week, he said.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture’s website is offline after a malware attack, replaced with a message asking for patience until the issue is resolved.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There’s no indication that private information was put at risk, and computer files were backed up, he said. No other Georgia departments were affected.

“We detected and isolated any of the issues that may have been occurring,” Asbridge said. “We hope to have everything up and running soon. … We want to be safe rather than sorry and assess the situation fully before we move forward.”

It’s unclear how the malware penetrated the department’s network. Asbridge said he didn’t know the amount of the payment sought from the department.

The department’s website, agr.georgia.gov, currently sends visitors to a state government website  that includes a note asking for patience until the “network issue” is resolved.

When it’s working, the website allows businesses and individuals to apply for more than 70 licenses, from poultry operations to pesticides, Asbridge said. Without the website, those seeking a license can still apply by phone. The website also provided information about state agricultural programs.

“You can’t go on our website and look at what license you need right now,” he said. “We haven’t disappeared. We just don’t have a website.”

The department will evaluate the situation to determine what went wrong, he said.

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