New Mexico prison forced to lock after cyberattack disables cameras and doors

Photo: Matias Nieto (Getty Images)

A suspected ransomware attack in New Mexico has disabled the services of an entire county, including the local jail, which has terrifyingly lost access to its camera feeds, facility databases and automated doors.

Bernalillo County, the state’s most populous district and largest city, Albuquerque, was plunged into chaos last week as the cyberattack hampered government services. The attack, which took place on January 5, forced the closing from provincial offices, endangered databases, and caused major problems processing everything from local property agreements to marriage licenses, all of which depend on the county’s network.

“Most provincial buildings are closed to the public,” officials announced in a statement shortly after the attack. “However, the county employees are working remotely and will assist the public as much as possible given the circumstances. Provincial system suppliers have been notified and are working to resolve the issue and restore system functions.”

The most dramatic is that of the province Metropolitan Detention Center lost access to some of the key security features, including the camera feeds and the automated prison doors. For obvious security reasons, this forced the county to lock down the entire prison, forcing all inmates into their cells for the foreseeable future.

The edge reports that the lockdown also sparked a minor legal outcry, as it may have caused the county to violate the terms of a 1995 lawsuit regarding jail terms. That arrangement required inmates to be given certain privileges, such as guaranteed time outside the cells and access to communication equipment, such as telephones. Some of those privileges cannot be fulfilled under the current circumstances, and as a result, the county was forced to file an emergency appeal with federal court last week, asking the court to consider outstanding “emergency” circumstances.

To top it off, the attack also disabled — and potentially damaged — important prison databases, including the incident tracking database, which catalogs all violent incidents at the facility, including claims of sexual assault and fighting.

It’s unclear when this whole mess will be cleaned up, but one thing’s for sure: it’s another surefire sign that ransomware gangs are really, really bad – and that we better federal protection against them, somehow.

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