Hackers target Texas, take 23 governments offline. Cyber investigation underway

Texas was the latest target.

Nearly two dozen Texas communities were attacked by ransomware Friday and taken offline.

State officials declined to name the 23 communities, but they say the attacks triggered the activation of the State Operations Center, which has been operating around the clock since then, according to a statement from the Texas Department of Information Resources.

Fort Worth was not affected, a city spokesman said. Tarrant County officials declined to comment because they don’t talk about cybersecurity issues.

Officials said the attack did not reach the state’s computer systems.

“At this time, the evidence gathered indicates the attacks came from one single threat actor,” according to the Department of Information Resources.

Texas is the latest state to be hit by computer hackers, who have recently targeted Baltimore, New York and Florida.

More than 10 state and federal agencies, including the FBI’s cyber division, the Department of Homeland Security, Texas Department of Public Safety and Federal Emergency Management Agency, are working on the case, according to the statement from the Information Resources department.

Tarrant attack

Tarrant County officials discussed cybersecurity concerns three years ago with state lawmakers during a legislative hearing in Fort Worth.

At the time, they said Tarrant County had been attacked — and the county’s extensive security system that includes at least two firewalls was penetrated.

The tool: computer malware known as ransomware that works to encrypt files, preventing them from being opened by their rightful user.

The county employee found files locked. A ransom was demanded before the worker could again access that information.

But the county wouldn’t pay.

Instead, an emergency response crew isolated the problem and restored files to an hour before the software attack. No information was lost or stolen.

Officials speculated at the time that the virus reached Tarrant County through an email that included a link the user likely opened.

“We are definitely a hard target,” Darren N. May, information security officer in the Tarrant County Information Technology Department, told the committee in 2016.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.