MERCER — In what officials called a proactive effort to head off a ransomware attack, Mercer County Commissioners approved two contracts Thursday to shore up digital security.
The commissioners unanimously authorized payments of $42,802.14 to Carahsoft Technology Group of Reston, Va., and $30,676.50 to CDW Government of Chicago.
“We’re being proactive in getting this installed,” said Commissioner Matt McConnell, board chairman.
The county is spending more than $73,000 on the security effort, but McConnell said taxpayers will recoup that investment many times over if it successfully prevents a ransomware cyber attack.
Ransomware attacks have plagued major and minor municipalities throughout the United States since 2013. Generally, the hackers behind ransomware attacks demand payment in Bitcoin, a digital cryptocurrency that is difficult to trace.
The Associated Press reported in June that Riviera Beach, Fla., a municipality of about 35,000 population, agreed to pay $600,000 in Bitcoin to a group of hackers that had tied up the city’s system. In that case, Riviera Beach’s cybersecurity consultant recommended paying the ransom.
Atlanta opted to expel the hackers, a decision that cost more than $15 million, according to the Associated Press. Attacks have also targeted cities including Baltimore and Newark, N.J.
The Carahsoft contract will cover a system that will allow the county’s Management Information Services department to monitor potential threats. CDW will use artificial intelligence technology to expel attacks.
McConnell said the contracts approved Thursday covered the kind of situation he wouldn’t have expected when he first took office in 2012.
“Being a county commissioner is interesting, because you never know what the next letter or the next phone call is going to get you into,” he said.