Union City, Calif., Works to Recover After Cyberattack

City officials are working to address a computer virus that has effectively shut city employees out of their computer systems since early Saturday morning, and the effort to restore normalcy could take several days.

by Joseph Geha, East Bay Times / September 24, 2019
Shutterstock/Alexander Supertramp

(TNS) — Union City, Calif., officials are working feverishly to address a computer virus that has effectively shut city employees out of their computer systems since early Saturday morning, and the effort to restore normalcy could take several days, they said.

“Everything’s shut down until we can ensure all systems are clean, the virus is mitigated, and then we bring everything back up,” city spokeswoman Lauren Sugayan said Monday morning.

City staff can’t access email and the majority of city employees, including police officers who need to write and file reports, are being forced to find rudimentary workarounds to keep business moving.

“Initially, the virus didn’t shut down all online services,” Sugayan said. The city’s IT department staffers, who are working with cybersecurity experts from the FBI and the state to resolve the problem, shut down many services as a “precautionary measure.”

“We’re kind of just going old school right now,” Sugayan said. “Many of us are pulling up pen and paper.”

Most residents who don’t have daily business with city hall likely won’t be able to tell anything’s amiss. City traffic lights are working normally and police and fire will respond as always.

People with emergencies can still call 911 for help. And to report urgent non-emergencies, such as downed trees blocking a roadway, Sugayan said residents should call 510-471-1365.

However, people who had to pay fees, check permits or conduct other business with the city were inconvenienced because city hall was closed until noon so staff could be briefed on the situation.

Staff also used that time to coordinate with department heads how to go about their work while the usual systems are down, including communicating with each other and outside vendors, partners, and businesses.

“Unless its an emergency or urgent, we really need the space right now to restore services,” Sugayan said early Monday.

“And so, we are just asking businesses and residents who have to carry out those normal services with us, if they can hold off, hold off. We’re not going to charge late fees, we’ll extend deadlines for things.”

The city website is running, and the city’s cloud-based communication tools, such as its mass email contact system, are still working. Sugayan said the city will push out updates through the email list and on its social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook.

Normal business hours should resume Tuesday at city hall, Sugayan said.

It’s unclear yet whether the private information of people and businesses the city has records on have been affected by the breach, Sugayan said.

“Even when we restore everything, what’s lost, that’s a big question,” she said.

City IT crews are working overtime to try and work through the computer systems and could begin to bring things back online little by little,

“At least for the next several days, people can expect all of these online services to be down,” Sugayan said, adding “there’s no exact timeline” for when everything will be back to normal.

Sugayan said the city hopes to share more information about the virus in the coming days.

“We do have a sense of where it came from, and how it infected our system,” she said.

To receive email updates from Union City, you can go to this link.

©2019 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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