Cyberattacks hit county, city, slowing government functions
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon county was struggling Thursday to get its computer and telephone systems running again after it was hit by a cyberattack. a week after a nearby city lost data and computer programs in another apparent attack.
“All computer systems are offline at this time, our website is down and the phones are working intermittently,” Tillamook County officials announced in a statement. At a meeting Wednesday, the day the attack was noticed, county officials referred to it as a ransomware attack, according to Laura Swanson, a local reporter who was present.
“The county will be operating ‘old school’ for a few days,” county commissioner Mary Faith Bell told Swanson, a reporter from the Tillamook County Pioneer online news site. “No credit cards, and we’ll have to come up with workarounds to take care of county business.”
Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts a system, effectively locking out its users. The attacker promises to decrypt the information if paid.
Bell and other county officials did not return emails or phone calls seeking more information.
County officials said in a statement there is no indication that the personal information of employees or residents has been accessed or misused. But experts said it may be too soon to tell.
The government of St. Helens, a city in northwest Oregon of 13,000 and the county seat of Columbia County, experienced a disruption in computers, emails and telephones starting on Jan. 14. The disruption is still ongoing, though some of it has been overcome, city spokeswoman Crystal King told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The city government said in a statement Wednesday that its phones and some emails and computers were still offline, affecting all departments, including City hall, the library, public works and police. Emergency 911 phone number and non-emergency dispatch lines were unaffected.
King said in an email Thursday that St. Helens engaged cybersecurity experts to help investigate “the suspicious activity and to help restore access to programs and data within our network.”
Columbia County has reported no intrusions.
In 2019, 113 state and municipal governments and agencies, 764 healthcare providers, and 89 universities, colleges and school districts in the United States were hit by ransomware attacks, said Brett Callow, threat analyst at Emsisoft, a company that produces software to protect computers against attacks. The numbers came from a compilation of press reports and help requests the company received, Callow said.
Among victims of recent cyberattacks were city governments in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida.
Tillamook County, on northwest Oregon’s Pacific coast, began experiencing difficulties with several computer systems on Wednesday. The information technology department determined it was a malware attack.
“Tillamook takes the security of the information entrusted to us very seriously. We are taking steps to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future, including strengthening security measures,” the statement said.
County officials said they would work with law enforcement and hire an independent computer forensics provider and legal experts to help in the investigation. The FBI office in Portland, which has a cybercrime task force, has offered to help, spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said.
The attack has disrupted county business, including delaying mailing out notifications of the county commission’s Jan. 9 decision to grant Facebook permission to build a landing spot for an undersea fiber-optic cable connecting America with Asia on a community’s residential lot.
Residents of the tiny beachside community of Tierra del Mar vociferously opposed the plan, which they said will subject the village to drilling that could damage home foundations and septic systems and open the door for other similar projects.
Residents intend to appeal the decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals. The 21-day clock for appeals will not start until the notifications are mailed out, said Lynnae Ruttledge, a Tierra del Mar homeowner.
Ruttledge said an official has mentioned that the county could be offline for another four days.
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