Usually when the government fails to do something, partisan gridlock is blamed. In the case of Licking County, Ohio, the local government has all but shut down thanks to ransomware hijacking the county’s computers.

The issue was discovered Tuesday, when government officials were unable to access their computer or phone systems. The culprit is ransomware, and while it’s unclear how exactly the county network became infected by the malicious virus, it has effectively left the government at a standstill until the issue is resolved.

As is typical of most ransomware attacks, the one that hit Licking County is demanding a payment in order to return access. In most cases, ransomware will encrypt a system’s files and make them inaccessible until the bounty is paid.

According to the Newark Advocate, Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb would not disclose the amount demanded by the ransomware, nor if the government would pay it. The county has tapped cybersecurity experts to examine the issue and has alerted the FBI of the situation.

The attack has forced county departments including the county auditor's office and clerk of courts to perform their without the use of computers or office telephones. The county warned it will likely be operating in that way all week, with “no guarantee” everything will be back online by Monday.

Citizens of the county will still be able to reach the 911 Center, so emergency services are still available for police, fire or medical purposes. However, the department remains operating in “manual mode” with no computer system to aid them.

Sean Grady, director of the Licking County emergency management agency and regional 911 center, told the Newark Advocate the attack “takes us back 25 years in how we dispatch.” The department will be bringing in laptops to try to augment the tasks their computer system would typically perform.

Departments that rely primarily on phones, like the Department of Job and Family Services, are also at a loss thanks to the attack. Medicaid applications would normally be processed through the call center but have been forced to other locations. Cases of child abuse would also be handled by family services, but those calling to report such an incident won’t be able to reach anyone.

County Auditor Mike Smith did tell the Newark Advocate of one piece of technology still functioning in the office. "Apparently, our clock still works," he said.

Ransomware has becoming a more prominent threat to governments and other organizations that rely heavily on computer systems. Hospitals became a major target in 2016, resulting in temporary shut downs and the transfer of patients to other locations to get care.

Licking County isn’t the only local government to be targeted, either. Last year Madison County, Ind. was hit with ransomware and was forced to continue operating without electronic systems. The county’s insurance coverage eventually paid for the ransom.

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