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Chatham County, N.C., Systems ‘Inoperable’ After Cyberattack

The county government's network, email and phone lines were rendered "inoperable for an undetermined amount of time,” County Manager Dan LaMontagne said Wednesday. The attack did not affect early voting or 911 systems.

by Charlie Innis, The News & Observer / October 30, 2020
Shutterstock/Rymden

(TNS) — An unidentified "cyber incident" breached Chatham County's communication systems Wednesday, County Manager Dan LaMontagne said.

The attack rendered the government's network, email and phone lines "inoperable for an undetermined amount of time," LaMontagne said in an email to The News & Observer.

"We are working with law enforcement and support agencies so we can recover from this incident as soon as possible. Our priority is to restore our systems in a secure manner and maintain the provision of critical services," he said.

The incident did not affect the county's early voting or 911 communications, he said.

When asked for details about what happened and how the system was breached, public information officer Kara Dudley said the county is "still evaluating the impact."

Chatham County has not identified who was behind the incident.

"Departments are developing plans to deliver non-critical services. We will provide updates as they become available," Dudley said in an email.

Fears of foreign influence

A recent Elon University poll of 1,259 North Carolina voters found "more than 40% have little to no confidence that the election's outcome will escape the influence of foreign governments," according to a news release.

The Russian government has led cyber attacks on state and local governments across the United States in the days leading up the Nov. 3 election, Politico reported Oct. 22.

Cyber security across the Triangle

The city of Durham and Durham County suffered a malware attack in March, The N&O has reported.

The virus was a type of ransomware, called Ryuk, known to attack local governments and demand large payments in return.

Since March's malware attack, Durham County has made changes to its computer and security system, chief information officer Greg Marrow told county leaders Oct. 12.

The county implemented a two-factor authentication process for employees who sign in online.

Two-factor authentication requires staff to confirm their log-in attempt through a mobile device in addition to filling out their username and password.

"We're putting more time and awareness into training, as well, for our employees to know when to recognize a phishing attack, or what those emails look like," Marrow said.

Wake County said it could not answer questions about its cyber defenses because it is sensitive public security information protected under the state's public records law.

Durham County could not share information about defenses either, but a spokesperson for the Information Services and Technology Department said the county is prepared to address attacks.

Hacking attempts are common, spokesperson Dawn Dudley said in an email.

"Most, if not all, organizations deal with cyber attacks on a daily basis," she said.

©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. 

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