Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie



January 19, 2018

Late in the evening on Wednesday January 3, encrypted ransom-ware attacked the Farmington Electric Utility System (FEUS) infecting their computers. According to the FEUS’s social media page, the virus “took out” the billing computers for a period of one week. An unknown person or persons basically held the utility hostage demanding payment in the form of Bitcoins. Instead of paying, FEUS Director Hank Adair called the FBI and reported the attempted extortion.

Bitcoins are a relatively new form of crypto-currency made infamous as the preferred form of currency used on Silk Road, the notorious dark-web marketplace for contraband and all manner of bad stuff. The Silk Road is now defunct, and its creator Ross Ulbricht of San Francisco was sentenced to life behind bars. The Bitcoin market however has survived and because of its encryption created through a series of cyphers or algorythms, Bitcoins are virtually untraceable, making it the currency of choice for drug lords and assassins.

In a recent telephone interview with the TALON, Shana Reeves, Director of Communications and Quality of Performance for the City of Farmington said, “We just learned that the ransom-ware used was a variant of SAMSAM.”

Symantec.com reports that, “What sets SAMSAM apart from other ransom-ware is how it reaches its intended target by way of unpatched server side software ... the big take-away here is the growing trend that criminals are directly targeting organizations in ransom-ware attacks.”

Reeves assured FEUS customers, “There was no breach of personal information during the event.” Reeves said, “Absolutely no bank or debit card or account information was compromised.”

According to Reeves, “Our IT team jumped on it immediately ... We brought in outside entities from SJ College and from Bernalillo County to assist with the situation ... The problem was rectified in short order.”

An FBI source familiar with the case said, “This kind of attack is all too common ... It happens every day all over the country.” The investigation into who is responsible for the ransom-ware attack is on-going.

If you have not received your electric bill from FEUS, the utility is working diligently to remedy the situation. According to FEUS, customers can expect to receive a bill sometime this week. The utility intends to remove any tag fees and/or late charges, but in case you receive a pink tag or a late fee that you believe is in error, call Customer Service at 505-599-1353.

Farmington Electric Utility System serves 45,000 metered customers and encompasses 1,718 square miles taking up most of San Juan County and a small part of Rio Arriba County. Residents living in the area surrounding Aztec are FEUS customers.


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