NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana government was hit with a 'ransomware' cyber attack Monday, which led to the state shutting down servers that affected the Office of Motor Vehicles and other state services, officials said.
Ransomware is a type of malware (malicious software) commonly used by hackers. It's designed to block access to an online system, often by overwhelming it with never-ending requests, until money is paid.
Governor John Bel Edwards tweeted details about the attack Monday afternoon, saying the state's cybersecurity team was activated to stop an online attempt to ransom the government. The state's Office of Technology Services shut down some, but not all, state servers to prevent the malware from spreading, Edwards said.
"[The Office of Technology Services] immediately initiated its security protocols and, out of an abundance of caution, took state servers down, which impacted many state agencies’ e-mail, websites and other online applications," Edwards said.
The computer shut down disrupted services at nearly every state agency. All 79 Office of Motor Vehicles across Louisiana, including the one in New Orleans, were unable to do business.
Edwards said online services started to come back for some agencies the same day, but full restoration could take up to several days. The outage disrupted the OMV, SNAP program and other state functions and offices.
OMV Commissioner Karen St. Germaine said the Office of Technology Services was working with network security to diagnose what was causing the computer disruptions.
Once the state recognized the problem, the OTS shut down all out going computer network traffic as a precaution. Sources said some state agencies asked workers to disconnect internet cables and to power down their computers.
Customers left the OMV on Veterans disappointed Monday.
"I've been here since 8 o'clock this morning," one customer said. "I got a ticket at first, then they told us the system went down and that it's going to be a while."
St. Germaine said she understood the frustration with her office being unable to service customers.
"I do get it. I would be just as upset if I was a customer that took off an afternoon to walk into an OMV office," St. Germaine said.
Edwards said the OTS found the attempted attack was similar to the ransomware that targeted Louisiana school districts and some local governments this summer.
State officials released a statement Monday afternoon addressing the incident. The statement was sent using a spokesperson's non-governmental Gmail account.
“No one is immune to these attempted cyber attacks, which is why Governor Edwards’ has focused on building Louisiana’s cybersecurity capabilities,” said Jay Dardenne, commissioner of administration. “Our experts train and prepare for these types of incidents and have been successful in mitigating similar issues in the past, including this summer when our teams successfully brought services back online following the cyber attack on local schools. We have confidence in our cyber safeguards, capabilities and personnel and we are working to bring as many online services back online as quickly as we can.”
The governor said no data was lost in the attempted attack and the state did not pay a ransom. Several federal agencies have been brought in to help investigate the incident.