The chief executive officer of a telemarketing company in Sherwood, Arkansas has let go 300 employees after the company failed to recover from a ransomware infection months back.
In a deeply apologetic letter to employees, The Heritage Company CEO Sandra Franecke said two months ago their servers were attacked by hackers who demanded a ransom to unlock the systems. Despite paying the attackers what they demanded, the company struggled to get back on its feet. The company could no longer pay wages so the CEO decided to close shop and let everyone go.
The letter, obtained by local news station KATV, is reproduced below in full:
Dear Employees of The Heritage Company,
I know that you are all angry, confused, and hurt by the recent turn of events. Please know that I am just as devastated as you all are, especially that we had to do this at this particular time of year.
Please know that we would have NEVER gone to this extreme if we were not forced to. Now is the time to be honest and open about what is REALLY happening so that all of you know the truth, directly from me, especially since some of you have incorrect information and the spreading of untruths thru social media is damaging us further.
Unfortunately, approximately two months ago our Heritage servers were attacked by malicious software that basically “held us hostage for ransom” and we were forced to pay the crooks to get the “key” just to get our systems back up and running. Since then, IT has been doing everything they can to bring all our systems back up, but they still have quite a long way to go. Also, since then, I have been doing my utmost best to keep our doors open, even going as far as paying your wages from my own money to keep us going until we could recoup what we lost due to the cyber attack.
I know how confusing this must be, especially after we just gave away 7 cruises just this week, but again, that was money that I spent out of my own personal money to give you the best Christmas gift I possibly could, but that was before our systems were hacked. Afterwards I didn’t want to disappoint everyone by taking them back. We started the Prizes and Bingo the first of November when again I was being told the systems would be fixed that week.
What we hope is just a temporary setback is an opportunity for IT to continue their work to bring our systems back and for leadership to restructure different areas in the company in an attempt to recoup our losses which have been hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is extremely important right now that we all keep the faith and hope alive that The Heritage Company can and will come back from this setback. It is also important that we all keep to the facts and keep calm. And so, I ask that you please share this with the employees who may not be on this page or may not have Facebook. To share this out of the group, you will need to copy the text of this post and share it as your own status.
Please know that when I made my speech at the “Future is Bright” luncheons, everything was sincere and heartfelt. We had no way of predicting that our systems would be hacked at that time. Once we were hit with this terrible virus we were told time and time again that things would be better each week, and then the next week, and the week after that. Accounting was down and we had no way of processing funds. The mail center was down as we had no way of sending statements out, which meant that no funds could come in.
Had we known at the time that this would have hurt the company this badly, we would have made a statement to the employees long ago to warn everyone what this might mean. The ONLY option we had at this time was to close the doors completely or suspend our services until we can regroup and reorganize and get our systems running again. Of course, we chose to suspend operations as Heritage is a company that doesn’t like to give up.
I also want to apologize for the way many of you found out we were closing our doors. When we left the meeting yesterday afternoon, everyone had a plan for what was to happen, but we never considered that the word would spread so fast and far to each of you before your managers could speak to the employees who had already gone home for the day. No one is sorrier than I about you finding out from other sources who did not necessarily have the correct information.
So here it is: The Heritage Company is temporarily suspending our services. On January 2nd, there will be a message left on the weather line. That message will give you updated information on the restructuring of the company and whether or not we’ve made progress on our system.
In the meantime, I urge each and every one of you to please keep faith with us. We know how extremely hard you all work for each of the wonderful charities we all represent. We want you all back where you belong in two weeks’ time. We are a family, and my hope is that we will stay a family for a long time, despite this setback.
My mother started this company 61 years ago, and I am committed to keeping Heritage open if it is in my power to do so.
Owner and CEO,
The Heritage Company
Interviewed by reporters, one disgruntled employee, Dave Denny said, “let your employees know something, give them a chance to make our own decisions for ourselves, not really take our own lives in your own hands and basically play God with everybody’s lives.”
The layoff comes mere days before Christmas, leaving many unsure if they will start 2020 with a job. The CEO asks everyone to check back on January 2 to see if they will get their jobs back.
This is not the first time ransomware shutters a business in the United States this year. Brookside ENT and Hearing Center, a doctor’s office in Battle Creek, Michigan was forced to close its doors after hackers infected its systems with ransomware, compromising everything from patient records to billing information. Unlike The Heritage Company, Brookside ENT did not pay the ransom, likely figuring the incident would have the same outcome anyway.
These attacks, and many others reported in the past year alone, underscore the dire need to protect any business, big or small, from ransomware.
While large enterprises are typically backed by a dedicated security operations center and cyber-insurers, the same cannot be said for small and medium-sized businesses with tight IT budgets and cybersecurity skill gaps.
By Filip Truta