A couple of months after suffering a ransomware attack, libraries in a Bay Area county have gone offline again — but it's not clear yet whether hackers are to blame. Meanwhile, residents can't access online accounts.
(TNS) — Almost two months after the library system in Contra Costa, Calif., was hit with a ransomware attack that disabled its online network for weeks, another mysterious outage has struck its 26 branches while authorities are still investigating what happened the first time around.
After residents reported not being able to access their online library accounts to reserve or check out books, library spokeswoman Brooke Converse confirmed this week the library’s Internet systems are down again.
“The Library is experiencing a network outage as we continue the remediation work from the January ransomware attack. The investigation is still active and ongoing,” she said in a statement emailed Tuesday evening. “We’re doing everything we can to get library services restored as quickly as possible.”
She did not say what caused the latest outage or when services would be restored, nor did she indicate whether investigators believe it was related to the original ransomware attack or could be the result of a new one.
County Administrator David Twa did not respond to an email asking whether the current outage is related to the ransomware attack or what steps the county has taken to protect all its systems.
In an email response to the same questions, public information officer Susan Shiu would only say: “We continue to do remediation work and continue the ongoing, active investigation,” then added that the “IT Department continues to work with state and federal investigators.”
The library first experienced network outages on Jan. 3. At the time, library and county officials said they were trying to assess the extent of the data breach from an apparent hack and ransomware attack.
It took almost the entire month for Wi-Fi and all other services to re restored, as officials scrambled to fully bring back about two libraries a day.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office, as well as federal authorities, are still investigating the original attack.
While the library collects names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and birth dates, it does not collect Social Security Administration numbers or store credit-card payment information, according to a statement released by the library system in January. The statement also noted the libraries stopped collecting driver’s license information last year and removed all of it from customer records.
By mid-January, the library system had restored some services, including public Wi-Fi and printing, but patrons still couldn’t access their online accounts to reserve books for much of the month.
Converse did not explain immediately which services are currently unavailable due to the network outages, but it appeared as of Wednesday morning that patrons again couldn’t log into online accounts to reserve books or access digital news subscriptions.
Libraries appeared to be open across the county, though. Patrons can call ahead to order books or go in and browse, then check out the ones they find. They can’t use the library computers to search the catalog, however. But they can can still use use library computers for offline activity such as Microsoft Office and to print. And they can order e-books through OverDrive, a platform the library uses for ebooks.
The only fully operational library in Contra Costa is the one in Walnut Creek because it’s run by the city, not the county.
Visitors to the library website are greeted with a banner message that reads: “My Account is temporarily unavailable. We are working to restore service as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience!”
Ransomware attacks against local governments and agencies have increased in recent years, and 2019 was particularly bad, according to analysts at Emisoft, a firm that monitors ransomware.
A report by the company found that last year, “an unprecedented and unrelenting barrage of ransomware attacks” affected at least 113 state and municipal governments and agencies, 764 healthcare providers and 89 universities, colleges and school districts across the nation.
University of Maryland researchers found in a study last year that some local governments are susceptible to cyber attacks because of “a lack of cybersecurity preparedness” and “a lack of adequate funding for it.”
©2020 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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