Fort Lauderdale Spends $430,000 on Computer Security After Anonymous Attack

The cyber attack forced the city to shut down its online site for hours on Dec. 1 to make sure sensitive city files were protected — and it made the city take a new look at other potential Internet problems.

by Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel / January 20, 2015
Anonymous, the cyberactivist group, is rumored to be launching multiple cyberattacks on Nov. 5. Flickr/Valya Egorshin

(TNS) — The city has spent $430,000 beefing up computer security since the hacker group Anonymous attacked the city's websites in December to protest recent city laws regarding homeless behavior.

The cyber attack forced the city to shut down its online site for hours on Dec. 1 to make sure sensitive city files were protected — and it made the city take a new look at other potential Internet problems.

Officials said the Anonymous attack didn't cost the city almost a half-million dollars by itself. The emergency funding largely dealt with vulnerabilities they were already concerned about but had not yet budgeted funds to fix.

"Certainly, Anonymous probably expedited the work that needed to be done and probably exposed some areas that needed to be addressed," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said. "I wouldn't say that [the expense] was all tied to Anonymous in any way, shape or form."

Seiler said the city's information technology director had already been telling him the city's online security needed to be enhanced and the cost paid so far is not out of line with earlier estimates. He said additional work is probably still needed.

City Manager Lee Feldman broke down the emergency expenses: $366,989 for specialized security consulting and oversight services; $45,398 for software licenses to manage and control computer activities; and $17,907 for hardware to strengthen the computer infrastructure.

More changes are anticipated, Feldman said in a memo to commissioners.

The city has been looking for a chief information security officer since 2013, but has been unable to fill the spot because such positions are in high demand in the public and private sectors, Feldman said. The city will have three new employees dedicated to security analysis and monitoring, he said.

City officials have described the Anonymous attack as a denial-of-service, which created a Web traffic jam that kept people from accessing the city's fortlauderdale.gov and flpd.org sites. They said the city pro-actively shut down its online sites to prevent any malicious activity while technicians addressed the security issues.

"The city's system was not hacked.There were denial-of-service attempts which our Information Technology Services Department mitigated," spokesman Chaz Adams said. "Since then, we have taken steps which city management feels are appropriate and prudent to maintain the security and integrity of the system."

Anonymous had demanded the city repeal ordinances that make it illegal to panhandle at busy intersections, sleep on public property downtown and greatly restricted the ability of charitable groups to feed the homeless outdoors.

The homeless feeding ordinance is currently being challenged in court by Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who has been feeding the homeless outdoors in the city for more than 20 years.

The city has agreed not to enforce the ordinance until at least the middle of February while it tries to find an amicable resolution with Abbott.

©2015 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)