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Manager Says County Needs To Improve Cybersecurity After Hack

cyber security graphic

Most Mecklenburg County computer systems used by the public are now back online after an early December cyber-attack. County Manager Dena Diorio told county commissioners Wednesday night that remaining systems should be online by the end of this week. Diorio also said the county will speed up work to protect systems from future attacks. 

Diorio wasn't specific, but said the county information technology department has already adopted new training and security measures, and more are on the way. 

“I.T. Services is developing a revised comprehensive security plan that will accelerate components of their three-year strategic business plan into fiscal year 2018. Implementation of these projects will continue into FY 2019 and beyond,” she said. 

Diorio said she has learned that governments and companies have to work every day to keep systems secure. "Cybercriminals are adept at trying to stay one step ahead of the security measures designed to keep them out. We must strengthen our security systems to stop the ability of hackers to suspect to successfully attack us again," Diorio said.

Commissioner Trevor Fuller asked for details of how the attack happened and what the county learned. Diorio said the county's cybersecurity consultant, Fortalice Solutions, is working on a report that could be delivered in a future closed session of the commission. 

In early December, a county employee clicked on an email link that sent a malicious program onto county networks. Officials say 48 of the county's 500 servers and 200 key computer programs or applications were affected. The hackers demanded a ransom of two Bitcoins, worth more than $30,000 at the time, in exchange for a key to unlock them. Officials decided not to pay the ransom, after determining that systems could be restored from backups.  

Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour praised county staff for their efforts to restore the systems. He also gave Diorio a pat on the back, saying he was surprised at her decision not to pay ransom to the hackers. 

“That's like telling the terrorists, like, no we do not negotiate with terrorists. So I thought that was a bold statement to make,” Ridenhour said.

Diorio gave no new details Wednesday on how many systems have been restored, saying only: 

“The majority of public facing applications and services including paying taxes online, Polaris, GIS, code enforcement, human resources, department of social services and parks and recreation are all available to the public. While we have made tremendous progress there is still much work to do.”

Last week, the county said 80 of 200 key systems had been restored.  Besides those Diorio listed, they include jail arrest processing and court systems.

David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.