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VALLEY GLEN (CBSLA.com) – Los Angeles Valley College in Valley Glen paid a $28,000 ransom to hackers following a cyber-attack to its system over winter break that left students and staff locked out of their accounts.

The school newspaper, The Valley Star, reports that the college paid the ransom using bitcoins on Jan. 6 after hackers locked its file, email and messaging systems and threatened to delete them if they were not paid. The school determined it was cheaper to pay the ransom that try and remove the unidentified ransomware virus.

“There’s not much in the way of options,” said Philip Lieberman, a cyber-security expert and CEO of Lieberman Software Corporation. “Once your machine’s been infected, you either have to pay or lose the data.”

The Valley Star reports that the hackers locked the system with encryption and threatened to delete all files within seven days if they were not paid.

Lieberman explained to CBS2 Monday that this type of exploitation happens daily throughout the world, and it is big business. He said the attackers are often based in Eastern Europe. Since the U.S. government does not have pacts with those nations regarding how to prosecute such cyber-attacks, it is powerless to go after the culprits.

“This is, in fact, a very large, well-organized, multinational group that’s well known to the U.S. government, well known to law enforcement, but can’t be stopped until our country and their country come to an agreement on stopping it,” Lieberman said.

Los Angeles Valley College initially reported the hack Jan. 3, describing it as “malicious cyber activity.” The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cyber-crimes unit had been investigating the case.

The school used a cyber-insurance policy to pay the hackers off, the Valley Star said.

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