Baltimore officials assured city residents Wednesday that they can safely visit government websites, but the city’s computer systems still have not recovered from the digital attack that has crippled email, online payments and property sales.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and his top staff said the FBI, Microsoft and other vendors were helping the city restore the network, but they would not provide details because the ransomware attack detected May 7 is being criminally investigated.
City officials said at a City Hall news conference that the city’s ability to facilitate real estate transactions could be restored soon. The hack has shut down the systems essential for completing home sales, putting a halt to property deals during one of the real estate industry’s busiest times of the year.
“The city’s lien system is presently not available to us,” said Finance Director Henry J. Raymond. “As a result there are no real property transactions being conducted in the city.”
He said the city hopes to resume those services “late next week” and that the Maryland Attorney General’s office is helping the Clerk of the Court’s office restore the legal process necessary to complete sales.
“There are no guarantees,” Raymond added.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said the real estate transaction system is crucial.
“The people who want to buy a house in the city are very important to us,” Davis said during a City Hall news conference.
Raymond also said the city is preparing contingency plans for receiving electronic payments for property taxes that are due June 30. He also said the city has experienced “some delays” in paying its bills.
Frank Johnson, Baltimore’s chief digital officer, said his staff and vendors are working around the clock to fix the systems.
“I can tell you all confidently that we will be back online and we will be back online more safely and securely than we were before,” Johnson said.
He just couldn’t say when.
Davis and Johnson have both been speaking with city officials in Atlanta, which experienced a similar attack, and said that they are confident the city is taking all the necessary actions required to restore service.
City officials declined to say what vendors have been hired to help with the recovery effort. Raymond said any contracts with those vendors have been authorized by him. They also declined to say whether the city had a recovery and emergency plan in place for such a hack. Davis said they could not answer such questions because of the criminal investigation into the attack.
As the recovery continues, the ransomware has made it difficult for city police officers to communicate on the job, said Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.
“Getting information out to where it needs to be is not happening quickly — whether that is in regard to the crime fight or the internal workings of the Baltimore Police Department,” he said.
Officers have been forced to rely on phones and radios to communicate with one another, he said. The department has given officers permission to create new external email addresses to use for communication purposes, which is “not ideal,” he said.
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Baltimore Police spokesman Matt Jablow said the 911 system, the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, CitiWatch cameras and computers in patrol cars still work.
“We don’t have email, but we don’t think it has any real affect on operations,” he said.
The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter wrote in an email Wednesday evening that email addresses ending in “barcs.org” are back online as the shelter has migrated to its own server.
Shelter employees still do not have access to their desktop computers, the organization wrote, and “are still in need of laptops in order to continue our lifesaving work.” They’re soliciting donations to go toward refurbished laptops.
The ransomware was detected May 7. Hackers locked up files on city computers by encrypting them, demanding a payment to turn over the key, but officials have said they won’t pay.
The disruption to the computer network has caused widespread problems in city government. City employees do not have access to email, leading some to create private accounts to get work done. The hack has affected the city’s ability to accept payments, and officials have said they are suspending late fees. Several agencies are developing workarounds to continue offering services that typically rely on computers.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Phil Davis contributed to this article.