In a tweet posted Saturday night, Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq said the government’s IT system had been hacked “early this morning” by a “virus” that had “targeted public services.”
“We’re working around the clock to see the scope of the issue & get everyone back online,” he wrote.
Savikataaq said the virus “affects more than just Iqaluit” but that officials are not sure just how far it reaches.
In a post on Facebook the Government of Nunavut identified the incident as a ransomware attack.
According to the RCMP website, ransomware is a malicious software which infects a computer and denies access to the system or data, and demands a sum of money to restore the information.
The RCMP says currently, the most common form of ransomware will encrypt data.
“Victims will receive an on-screen alert stating their files have been encrypted or a similar message, depending on the type of ransomware,” the RCMP website reads.
In a tweet posted Saturday, Jimi Onalik, Nunavut’s director of planning and communications, said the government was “actively addressing the computer network issue” and was “working with IT security companies and internet and software providers.”
Onalik said officials do not have an estimated time for when the services would be restored, saying only that some government services may experience delays.
In a tweet on Saturday, Iqaluit city councilor Kyle Sheppard said the incident could have “major impact” on government operations this week.
Ransomware attacks on the rise
According to the RCMP, the incidents of ransomware in Canada are rising “at an alarming rate.”
In 2015, the RCMP says, Canadians were affected by 1,600 ransomware attacks a day, but by September 2016 the number of attacks nearly doubled.
“Those are the known cases,” the RCMP website reads. “Many incidents still go unreported.”
In April, the city of Stratford Ont., had its servers targeted by an apparent ransomware attack.
A few months later, in September, the Ontario city of Woodstock’s computer system was infected by a virus.
Last year, the town of Midland, north of Toronto, Ont., paid hackers eight bitcoins for the encryption keys to unlock its servers locked in a cyberattack.
Similarly, the Town of Wasaga Beach paid nearly $35,000 to cyber criminals in order to regain access to town servers, which had been held ransom for seven weeks.
The RCMP discourages victims from paying ransom, saying there is no guarantee that the data will be recovered.
The force says a victim who pays the ransom may be extorted for more money once the initial amount is paid and could make themselves a target for future attacks.