Chamber loses data to 'ransom' virus


BENNINGTON -- The local chamber of commerce is recovering from having lost most of its digital files to a "ransomware" virus in early February.

A local dentistry practice has also reported being affected by the same virus but the damage was far less severe.

"We had to replace our entire computer system because of it," said Joann Erenhouse, director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.

In early February, a message appeared on the chamber's computers demanding a $400 ransom be paid lest the chamber's computer files become permanently locked. Erenhouse said it soon became clear the chamber had no choice but to pay, and was about to when a power failure caused it to lose contact with those making the demand.

All of the chamber's digital records except its financial records were permanently lost, she said.

Max Squires, of Brenda Jones Real Estate Group, who works with the chamber on web design and IT services, said the virus wanted payment in Bitcoins, a digital currency, or through Money-Pal.

"They give you those two options because they are untraceable," Squires said. "There's no real way to defend yourself because most of the time it's transferred by a user mistake."

He said the virus, called "CryptoLocker," comes in emails or attachments that appear legitimate. Once a person clicks on the attachment the virus installs itself on the computer. Squires said the chamber had an anti-virus program but the CryptoLocker did its work before it could be caught.

According to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, CryptoLocker is a type of "ransomware" and affects the Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Vista, and Windows XP operating systems.

"Right now we are just about up and running," Erenhouse said.

The chamber had to replace all of its computers, servers, and back-up hard drives. The cost was about $5,000, but that does not count the number of added work hours and lost time. The chamber lost its member list, its image folders used to make its newsletters and brochures, records on the grants it has filed for, and information kept on vendors attending the Bennington Car Show and the Southern Vermont Garlic and Herb Festival.

"It's like starting a brand new chamber of commerce," Erenhouse said.

The chamber did not have to close during the period when its computers were down, she said, but things that would have taken minutes were now taking hours.

"It was like going back to a clay tablet and stylus, it was so frustrating," she said.

The silver lining, Erenhouse said, is the chamber now has better back-up systems and a new program that logs and sorts data much better, as it's designed for use by chambers of commerce. While the chamber has lost much, it should be more efficient going forward.

The owner of a local dental practice, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said his office was affected last Monday. He paid $550 in Bitcoins, but to no avail.

"We just felt desperate and thought it was worth a try," he said via email.

The office only lost access to its X-ray data. All other information was backed up, he said.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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