Baltimore, MD- “Many homeowners spend months, even years preparing to make the huge life change of selling their home.” Stephen Sullivan from SWEETESTHOME states. “They paint walls, update kitchens and even acquire high-end home accessories all in attempts to up their home’s value.” These spruced-up homes then go on the market, and families and real estate agents alike eagerly wait for offers to roll in, hoping to make back their investment and more.
Once the right buyer is found, the next step is usually the straightforward task of processing all the documentation, registering with the city, and closing the sale. Unfortunately, as of three days ago, that was no longer possible in Baltimore. A ransomware attack in May caused much of the city government’s online transaction system to go down. Bills, tickets and fine payments were all put to a stop as systems were halted in an attempt to combat the malicious software.
Electronic emergency dispatch systems are still online, and while payments can still be made in person via money order or certified check, closing procedures for home sales are not so lucky. The system shutdown has been a devastating blow to home buyers and sellers, many of whom will be unable to move forward until the issue is resolved. Not only are agents not able to process the necessary paperwork to close deals, but many who are relying on the city’s Live Near Your Work grant program will be unable to access their approved grant amounts until the servers are back up and running.
Ransomware attacks have become an ever-more pressing issue as government entities increasingly rely on online systems in order to offer more efficient, streamlined services. Last September, a ransomware attack in the small town of Midland, Ontario rendered the town’s computers non- operational for two entire days, crippling the city’s processing payments, email services, reloading of transit cards, permit issuance, and marriage application processes. The data was held hostage by cyber attackers, who requested payments in exchange for encryption keys to release the files. The town eventually complied with the hijackers’ demands, and paid them via Cryptocurrency, as they were insured against cyber attack.
It is unknown whether Baltimore has the same protections, however, and as the attack is currently under investigation no comments could be made regarding the details of the ransomware gripping the city. This is another large tarnish on the Baltimore city council reputation, coming just two weeks after prior mayor Catherine Pugh resigned amidst her children’s book series scandal. Although ensuring that experts were currently working on the shutdown, officials did report that the issue could potentially take weeks to resolve before everything is up and running at full capacity.
In the meantime, all housing deals have come to a standstill. Many real estate agents are left with their hand tide, and some home sellers are even being forced to extend their mortgage payments while they wait in limbo for their expected sales to go through. The next few days will be crucial to see how policymakers intend to solve an attack which could eventually, if left unsolved for a significant period of time, could permanently affect Baltimore’s housing market.