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New Orleans Cyberattack May Limit Online Tax Payment

A cyberattack that has crippled New Orleans’ computer network for more than two weeks might cause another disruption: Unless the systems are restored soon, property owners won't be able to pay their taxes online.

by Jessica Williams, The Times-Picayune / January 2, 2020

(TNS) — The cyberattack that has crippled New Orleans government's computer network for more than two weeks might claim yet another casualty: Unless the systems are restored soon, property owners won't be able to pay their taxes online.

The city normally accepts property tax payments through its website, through the mail or in person at City Hall. But the online functions have been hobbled by a ransomware attack since Dec. 13.

That means property owners who normally use that system should instead pay their bills in person or by mail, City Councilman Joe Giarrusso told residents in a post on social media Monday.

The city has not said if it expects its online systems to return before Jan. 31, the deadline to pay property taxes in New Orleans.

"Due to ongoing system disruptions from the city’s cyber attack, property tax payments CANNOT be made online. You must pay by mail or in person inside City Hall at 1300 Perdido St.," Giarrusso wrote on Twitter.

The issue is not likely to affect property owners who still are paying on a mortgage, as mortgage lenders typically pay residents' taxes through a different process, he said. About half of New Orleans homeowners fall in that category, according to the Data Center and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Giarrusso said his office has recently received an influx of questions about online tax payments.

The city's computers took a gut-punch Dec. 13 after a city employee apparently responded to a "phishing" email and provided login credentials to a hacker. A flood of such emails soon began showing up in the city's computer network.

Officials also detected the presence of ransomware, software that locks up computers and demands payment to allow access. But no demands for payment have been received, officials have said.

Similar attacks have hit more than 40 municipalities across the U.S. this year, as foreign and domestic hackers have increasingly infiltrated government computer systems in hopes of gaining a quick payday.

A separate attack on the state's servers in November prompted a shutdown of state websites and forced Office of Motor Vehicles offices to close several days.

No ransom was paid in that case. Experts say such payouts encourage future attacks.

In New Orleans, officials have had to re-image more than 3,400 computers and 450 servers. Employees have had to use an emergency alerting platform and their personal emails to communicate internally.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell has said the cost of the attack will likely exceed the city's cybersecurity insurance policy, valued at $3 million this year. The city intends to increase its policy to $10 million in 2020, she has said.

The city has not provided a timeline for completing the restoration of its computer systems.

Though property tax payments are a no-go online, sales and other taxes can still be paid online, as those are handled by outside systems. Residents can also pay their parking and traffic tickets online.

The city has traditionally encouraged property owners who pay their taxes in person to pay early, as waiting until Jan. 31 can mean encountering long lines at City Hall. Mailed payments must be postmarked by Jan. 31.

Property tax bills are considered delinquent after Feb. 1.

©2019 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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