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Resident Questions Joplin, Mo., About Cybersecurity Incident

Joplin’s mayor indicated Monday night that the city is still investigating how its computer and telephone systems were interrupted July 7, but he and the city manager continued to decline to discuss details.

Cybersecurity lock on a background of passwords
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(TNS) — Joplin’s mayor indicated Monday night that the city is still investigating how its computer and telephone systems were interrupted July 7, but he and the city manager continued to decline to discuss details.

A Joplin resident, Frank Thompson, questioned city officials at the close of the meeting about the details of what the city has termed a “network security incident.”

He asked whether the city was hit by ransomware, whether ransom was paid or whether the city was working to restore the system. If the city did not pay for a key to decrypt ransomware, how much has been spent working to restore the system?

“Anything that is asked is top secret. You don’t share any information,” Thompson said.

He asked if the city had pinpointed how the security incident occurred and when it started, if they knew. Is the personal information of city employees or health records at the health department compromised? What about the payment information of residents?

City officials previously said a third-party server is used for utility bill collections and that the provider told the city the information was safe because it was not stored in city computers.

Thompson asked who is in charge or responsible for the city’s information technology.

“You can ignore these questions all you want, but sooner or later they’ll have to be answered,” Thompson said. He added it is time for accountability.

City Manager Nick Edwards replied that he is ultimately responsible for the information technology operations.

“You’ve given us a long list of questions, and we are unable to answer those questions at this time. We will certainly put that information out, but not at this time.”

“Why are city leaders not letting us know what’s going on?” Thompson questioned.

He asked several times if the information of residents is safe, particularly in the health and police departments.

Mayor Ryan Stanley took the question, replying, “Mr. Thompson, I do know that this body has a desire to be transparent. At this point of our investigation, we cannot do that.”

In other business, Joplin’s COVID-19 case numbers were down slightly Monday from numbers two weeks ago, the Joplin Health Department director said during an update given during the meeting.

It has been difficult to track Joplin’s virus numbers since the computer security incident knocked out city’s computer systems July 7. That prevented daily updating of the city’s COVID-19 dashboard on the city government website, www.joplinmo.org.

Over the last two weeks, Joplin experienced 428 new cases of the virus and on Monday had 114 active cases, Director Ryan Talken said. Though he did not give a total for the previous day, he said cases were up 14% last week compared with the prior week. That is less than the statewide percentage, which was a 31% increase last week over the previous week.

As of Sunday night, Joplin and Jasper County ranked sixth in the state for number of cases with 365. Earlier this month, Joplin and Jasper County ranked first, but Taney County, the county where Branson is located, is now in the top spot for cases, he said.

There were 98 patients reported in Joplin hospitals on Monday for COVID-19 treatment, up from 89 two weeks ago when he last reported, Talken said. Of those, 23 are Joplin residents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 3.5% decline in Joplin’s positivity rate with a 42% increase in testing 9.

Talken said that means “we are testing more and finding less positives” in those tests. “That is a good thing.” Statewide positivity rates are higher than they were.

“It’s way too early to call it a trend,” Talken said.

Vaccination rates are up slightly over two weeks ago. The percentage of Joplin residents who have completed vaccinations is 43.16% compared with 40.2% statewide. The combined percentage of Joplin and Jasper County is 32%, Talken said.

“Nationwide, cases are on the upswing,” he said. “Hopefully not as steep as what we’ve experienced, but it is starting to increase across the country and within our region,” which includes Southeast Kansas, Northeast Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas.

Regional hospital have reported that 92% to 97% of COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated, though he did not define how many hospitals or the boundaries of the region reporting.

Councilman Phil Stinnett asked if Talken had the numbers for how many of the hospitalized patients were vaccinated or unvaccinated. Talken said he did not have those numbers.

© 2021 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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