Missouri county declares state of emergency amid suspected ransomware attack

Mike Powers


Missouri county declares state of emergency amid suspected ransomware attack
Enlarge / Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, which is part of Jackson County.

Jackson County, Missouri, has declared a state of emergency and closed key offices indefinitely as it responds to what officials believe is a ransomware attack that has made some of its IT systems inoperable.

“Jackson County has identified significant disruptions within its IT systems, potentially attributable to a ransomware attack,” officials wrote Tuesday. “Early indications suggest operational inconsistencies across its digital infrastructure and certain systems have been rendered inoperative while others continue to function as normal.”

The systems confirmed inoperable include tax and online property payments, issuance of marriage licenses, and inmate searches. In response, the Assessment, Collection and Recorder of Deeds offices at all county locations are closed until further notice.

The closure occurred the same day that the county was holding a special election to vote on a proposed sales tax to fund a stadium for MLB’s Kansas City Royals and the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Neither the Jackson County Board of Elections nor the Kansas City Board of Elections have been affected by the attack; both remain open.

To date, ransomware attacks have hit 28 county, municipal, or tribal governments this year, according to Brett Callow, a threat analyst with security firm Emsisoft. Last year, there were 95; 106 occurred in 2022.

The Jackson County website says there are 654,000 residents in the 607-square-mile county, which includes most of Kansas City, the biggest city in Missouri.

The response to the attack and the investigation into it have just begun, but so far, officials said they had no evidence that data had been compromised.

“We are currently in the early stages of our diagnostic procedures, working closely with our cybersecurity partners to thoroughly explore all possibilities and identify the root cause of the situation,” officials wrote. “While the investigation considers ransomware as a potential cause, comprehensive analyses are underway to confirm the exact nature of the disruption.”

Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. has issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency.

“The potential significant budgetary impact of this incident may require appropriations from the County’s emergency fund and, if these funds are found to be insufficient, the enactment of additional budgetary adjustments or cuts,” White wrote. “It is directed that all county staff are to take whatever steps are necessary to protect resident data, county assets, and continue essential services, thereby mitigating the impact of this potential ransomware attack.”

The attack first came to attention Tuesday morning, county officials said on Facebook.

The county has notified law enforcement and retained IT security contractors to help investigate and remediate the attack.

“The County recognizes the impact these closures have on its residents,” officials wrote. “We appreciate the community’s patience and understanding during this time and will provide more information as it becomes available.”



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