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Pennsylvania Town Ups Cybersecurity After Incident

After a minor security breach and a ransomware attack against another town, Penn Township officials are working to boost cybersecurity. They say a hacker accessed a township credit account and stole money.

by Jim T. Ryan, The Patriot-News / June 15, 2020
Shutterstock/vs148

(TNS) — Penn Twp. has become the third municipality to be victimized recently by hackers. In late May someone in Belgium got access to a township credit account to steal more than $200, township treasurer Tina Kelly said on May 27.

The latest hack, combined with Duncannon’s becoming the victim of a ransomware attack in April, convinced the supervisors the township needs enhanced cybersecurity.

Kelly said she found about $212 of fraudulent charges on the Visa account drawn from Orrstown Bank just before Memorial Day. The charges to purchase traveler’s checks were made in Brussels, Belgium.

Kelly spent much of May 25 on the phone with the bank to iron out the fraudulent charges. The bank flagged the charges as possible fraud, keeping them from going through. The bank advised it appears hackers were using computer programs to try random credit numbers until one hit, she said.

The bank removed the charges from the township account and authorities were notified of the breach.

“The account should be made whole in the next couple days,” Kelly told the supervisors.

Township secretary Helen Klinepeter said the township did not lose any money in the attempted theft.

However, Kelly also advised supervisors that recent cyberattacks on local municipalities were cause for concern, and they should consider bulking up security. She knew of at least two municipalities hit by ransomware attacks, including Duncannon Borough.

In April, a hacker sent ransomware to Duncannon’s computers and servers making them useless. The hacker demanded $50,000.

The borough paid the ransom because its computers and information could not be recovered by other means. The case is under investigation by law enforcement.

“Now that two of our neighbor areas have been hit with ransomware, I think (enhanced security) is a good idea,” Kelly said.

Penn Twp.’s current technology services include offsite backup of computer systems and information, she said. But if an attack occurred on a weekend, it might be a day or two before someone could respond. Ransomware would cost more than the enhanced security. Onsite visits from the cybersecurity specialists cost $125 per hour.

The township still would need enhanced security after an attack. There’s also the threat of malware designed to steal information. Either scenario could be far more costly to the township and residents.

“This causes not just expense, but also a lot of heartburn,” supervisors Chairman Jessie Boyer said.

The township’s IT provider, Mechanicsburg-based 3rd Element Consulting, offers several levels of increased security, including 24-7 monitoring for about $260 per month and a one-time setup fee of $1,200, according to Kelly.

The supervisors approved the increased security 2-1. Supervisor Henry Holman III dissented.

©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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