The attack began last week and has locked up the city’s computer systems, which is preventing title companies from checking on properties’ lien statuses.

A computer attack on the city of Baltimore has crippled government computers and is preventing real estate transactions in the area from closing.

City employees first discovered the ransomware attack early in the morning on May 7, Baltimore city spokesperson James Bentley told Inman Wednesday. Though Bentley declined to say how the attack was executed, he did explain that it has effectively locked up the city’s computer system. That system was still down and unusable as of Wednesday afternoon.

Multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI and the Secret Service are investigating the attack. The FBI confirmed to Inman that it is investigating the attack, but declined to provide additional details.

Ransomware attacks typically involve criminals seizing control of computer systems and demanding payment in order to release them. Though Bentley declined to go into detail about the attackers’ demands in this case, officials have previously said that the ransomeware in this case is called Robbinhood, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young has also said that the attackers demanded about $75,000 in Bitcoin, though he vowed not to pay it, WBAL reported.

“That’s just like us rewarding bank robbers, robbing banks. No we’re not going to pay a ransom,” Young reportedly said Monday during a meeting at City Hall.

For people in Baltimore, the practical impact of this attack is that they haven’t been able to close real estate transactions. Bentley said the problem is that title companies can’t check on properties’ lien statuses in the city’s computer system, meaning potential closings are currently on ice.

“People are having to extend settlement dates,” he added.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday how many transactions might be delayed by the attack. However, the situation is also preventing people from paying various debts for things like water bills and taxes, leading to concerns that they could end up with liens against their property. On Tuesday, the Sun reported that the city was unable to determine what exactly people owed, and was only able to accept payments in the form of checks or money orders.

However, Bentley suggested that some fears about the impacts to homeowners may be exaggerated. He said that currently late fees on payments have been waived, and no one is in danger of, say, losing their home over failure to pay bills.

Instead, Bentley said the greatest impact of the attack has been on city employees themselves who can’t access basic electronic tools such as email and are having to do all of their work manually.

Still, it could be several days before things get back to normal for Baltimore residents who want to pay bills or buy homes.

“At the very minimum they’re hoping to have the lien system back up next week,” Bentley added.

This is the second time in just over a year that Baltimore has been the target of a ransomware attack. In March 2018, attackers went after the city’s 911 system, forcing emergency management personnel to handle calls manually.

The real estate industry has also become a growing target for hackers, in part because transactions often involve large sums and take place online. A report late last year found that real estate companies had suffered an average 277 cyber attacks since the third quarter of 2017.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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