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Flathead Co. Sheriff: Threat suspects located outside of US, ran - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Flathead Co. Sheriff: Threat suspects located outside of US, ransom note released

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COLUMBIA FALLS - Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said Monday afternoon that Columbia Falls School District members have received a ransom letter via email from suspects connected to recent cyber threats that forced all schools in the Flathead Valley to close Thursday through Monday. 

According to Curry, the group who has identified themselves in the letter are already the subject of active investigations within the US and are located outside the country. 

It is believed that the same group has been behind the recent hacks of Netflix, HBO and other businesses.

Curry said Monday that the Flathead County Sheriff's Office has taken the unusual step of releasing the ransom letter in full

"We feel this is important to allow our community to understand that the threats were not real, and were simply a tactic used by the cyber extortionists to facilitate their demand for money," Curry says.

Columbia Falls Police Chief Clint Peters said a statement on Saturday that one of the suspects "was able to hack into the School District #6 server where he gained access to phone numbers of staff, parents, and students." The suspects then began sending text messages to parents and students.

Curry added that the group has frequently failed to live up to their promises to not release stolen data in the past, even when their ransom demands have been met.  

"We fully understand the concern and fear that has resulted from this cyber-attack, and want the community to know that all the valley law enforcement agency heads feel there is no threat to the physical safety of our children," Curry said. "As previously stated, the safety of our children has always, throughout this investigation, remained our paramount concern.  We will continue to work around the clock to bring those responsible to justice, and remain fully committed to this investigation, even though we now know the physical threat to our children does not exist.

Kalispell Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau says students will return to class on Tuesday.

Here is Curry's full statement:

Greetings from the desk of Sheriff Chuck Curry,

For Immediate Release – Update on Cyber Terrorism Case – Monday

As the joint investigation into the cyber terrorism case has progressed, further information has come to light. On Monday a ransom letter stating the demands of the cyber “hackers” was received via email by members of the Columbia Falls school district.

I have been keeping some information confidential in an attempt to not hamper our investigation, and know that “Trust Me” is beginning to wear thin. As a matter of course, ransom demand letters are generally never released to the public due to obvious investigative reasons. We understand that our valley has been terrorized due to the extremely emotionally charged, seemingly real, physical threats to the students of our area schools. We have made the unusual decision to release the ransom demand letter. We feel this is important to allow our community to understand that the threats were not real, and were simply a tactic used by the cyber extortionists to facilitate their demand for money.

All student information and identifying information has been redacted, and the redactions are noted in the released document. Other than the redacted information, the letter is verbatim, as received from the extortionists. The letter is attached to this release.

The group who have identified themselves in this letter have been identified, and are the subject of active investigations elsewhere in our country. They are located outside of the United States. We have also discovered that they have frequently failed to live up to their promises to not release the stolen data in the past, even when their ransom demands have been met. 

We fully understand the concern and fear that has resulted from this cyber-attack, and want the community to know that all the valley law enforcement agency heads feel there is no threat to the physical safety of our children.

As previously stated, the safety of our children has always, throughout this investigation, remained our paramount concern. We will continue to work around the clock to bring those responsible to justice, and remain fully committed to this investigation, even though we now know the physical threat to our children does not exist.

RELATED: Flathead students, parents reassured before classes resume Tuesday

The copy of the ransom letter, including the redactions made by the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, can be viewed below: 

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