Monticello still down—and still functioning, despite hack

The band played on July 4, despite hackers. Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello photo by Jack Looney The band played on July 4, despite hackers. Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello photo by Jack Looney

For more than a week, Thomas Jefferson’s home has reverted back to a time when it didn’t have online ticketing and phone service. And despite the ransomware hack that hijacked its computer and phone systems, the 18th century estate has soldiered on during one of its busiest weeks of the year, when people throng to its July 4 naturalization ceremony.

Trouble was first spotted on June 27, a Tuesday morning. “It was pretty obvious we had been the victim of ransomware,” says Ann Taylor, executive VP with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. The malware encrypted files, making them inaccessible without the encryption key or rebuilding the files from backups, she says.

Because the attack is under an ongoing criminal investigation, she declines to give particulars of how much was demanded—and whether the foundation paid up, which some victims of hacks have done and still not gotten the encryption key.

But it’s not like it’s the first time the mountaintop manse has found itself without 20th century conveniences. “We have manual protocols for power outages,” says Taylor.

It’s been a minor inconvenience for visitors unable to buy tickets online in advance, she says, but that hasn’t prevented them from coming to the third president’s home. Guests are getting the $3 discount usually given to those buying online, and at the ticket counter, staffers unearthed old-fashioned, mechanical credit card machines.

Taylor praises the staff and volunteers who have rallied to maintain operations. “Certainly it’s been inconvenient for staff, working on cell phones,” she says. And the IT staff has been working around the clock. “Fortunately we have great partners willing to come onsite and help us rebuild the systems,” she adds.

This morning, 10 days after the attack, Taylor says she still can’t say when those systems will be up and running.

“It’s gratifying so many people turned out July 4 to welcome 75 new citizens,” says Taylor. Attendance was 2,349 for the ceremony, more than last year. And from July 1 to July 4, more than 11,200 people visited Monticello, keeping pace with last year, she says.