City of Knoxville faced with ransomware attack

Red padlock representing a security hack

The city of Knoxville, Tennessee shut down a large portion of its computer network after being hit by a ransomware attack on Thursday.

The attack was first discovered by members of the Knoxville Fire Department at 4:30 a.m. Shortly after the attack was detected, Knoxville chief operations officer, David Brace, notified employees of the breach in an email. City officials believe but have yet to confirm, the attack was launched when a city employee opened a phishing email.

“Please be advised that our network has been attacked with ransomware,” Brace told employees. “Information Systems is currently following recommend[ed] protocols. This includes shutting down servers, our internet connections and PC’s. Please do not log in to the network or use computer applications at this time.”

The city’s website was unreachable earlier in the day. By evening, access to the site was restored after city employees moved it to a temporary domain. The fire and police departments operated as normal, per officials, although police were unable to respond to minor traffic accident reports.

According to Brace, the city has received a ransom demand. Though Brace has so far declined to reveal the amount, he says forensic analysts and risk management consultants are working with law enforcement to resolve the breach. The attack has also been reported to the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. At this time, Brace says there’s no evidence of financial or personally identifiable information being accessed during the breach.

While city servers were affected during the breach, city IT officials believe the threat has been isolated. Brace added that no backup servers were affected and much of the city’s work could be rerouted through them. Meanwhile, Knox County said on Twitter it had no evidence of its systems being affected as a result of the Knoxville breach.

Knoxville isn’t the first city to be hit by a ransomware attack. Brett Callow, a researcher at security firm Emsisoft, found 113 state and municipal government agencies were infected by ransomware in 2019.