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Local dentist surprised cyberattack reached his Sunnyside office

HOUSTON – A dentist on Houston's South Side accuses internet hackers of encrypting and blocking files for patients, demanding a cash payment in return for fixing the problem.

"Everything started going haywire down there," said Dr. Zeb Poindexter III, owner of Poindexter Dental in the Sunnyside neighborhood of south Houston.

Poindexter told KPRC2 his office manager noticed the problem after not being able to access computerized records on Dec. 19.

All files and data were encrypted and locked by what's called ransomware, a type of malicious software that blocks access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.

Ryan McDonald, assistant chief engineer at KPRC-TV, said ransomware is a common -- and growing -- problem.

"What the software does is it comes in, hides in the background and it encrypts all the data that's important to you and it does this quietly. And when it's done, it puts up a message and says hey, by the way, we just encrypted all of your data, you can't use it until you pay us x amount of dollars, or do something else they want you to do," McDonald said.

Poindexter said he did not pay the ransom. Luckily, he had a backup of his records stored on external hard drives.

"It's just like somebody going into your house, and you've been robbed and you've been invaded," Poindexter said.

Poindexter has a message to share with other small business owners: have backups of files -- because you never know.

"If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody," he said.

"I never imagined that it would be something in terms of us as a health care company, coming all the way out here in Sunnyside. That's just a little bit unfathomable," Poindexter continued.

The FBI has suggestions for safeguarding against incidents of ransomware. To learn more, visit the FBI's page.