Denver Public Library shuts down its computer network after detecting ransomware

The system is up and running after a blackout lasting about 24 hours.

The fourth floor computer lab inside the Denver Public Library's main branch downtown, Dec. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The fourth floor computer lab inside the Denver Public Library's main branch downtown, Dec. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

A hacking attempt stonewalled people trying to use the Denver Public Library’s computers or access the system from elsewhere on Wednesday and Thursday, prompting officials to shut down the network.

Security officials detected a digital virus trying to worm its way into the network at about 11 a.m. yesterday, library spokeswoman Erica Martinez said. The blackout lasted until today at 10 a.m. while the IT department investigated the attempted hack and rehabbed the system.

“Our IT approach was to err on the side of caution rather than allow this to continue and run the risk of compromising the system,” Martinez said. “We probably didn’t need to shut down everything but we did so because of precautionary measures and we do think that paid off.”

Ransomware was the type of virus detected — software that encrypts data so that the owner loses access until they pay a ransom to get it back. It can enter the network by exploiting holes in the system or tricking humans into downloading the virus.

No one’s private information was compromised, Martinez said, because the virus wasn’t able to pierce the library’s security layers. But the ransomware did attack the ability of Denverites to do their thing.

“We feel like the damage done lies in the lack of access,” she said. “We know our customers rely on our services, including access to the internet, so that’s unfortunate. Some people use it for leisure but some people use it for research, like students, and applying for jobs.”

Library officials would not divulge the branch where the ransomware originated or how often a virus like this makes its way into the network because they said it would compromise security. However, we know that Denver and other publicly run networks are constantly being poked in what amounts to a continual game of cat-and-mouse.

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