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Ohio County Reinforces Cybersecurity After Holiday Attack

Butler County is bolstering cybersecurity for its IT systems after the sheriff’s department was hit by a malware attack over the holidays. Officials say no sensitive information was compromised.

(TNS) — In the wake of a breach into the Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff's computer systems, the county is giving attention to cyber security for all of its IT systems.

A malware attack over the holidays disrupted the Computer Aided Dispatch system and other parts of the sheriff's department operations. As a result of the breath, Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer told the Journal-News they have taken many measures to make sure no other malware is lurking, which has caused other inconveniences.

"We went into ultra-safe mode. We basically disconnected everything and went back to redo our complete system," Dwyer said. "Whenever you get malware there's always a chance of it re-infecting something. So we were ultra cautious, we took everything offline and the technical services guys touched every computer in the agency and every computer that touched our system, to wipe them clean."

He said most systems are working correctly, but the email system needs more work. They are able to send and receive internal emails but are using kiosks and cell phones to access outside messages. They are still working with third-party security experts to make sure no sensitive information was compromised. "I'm not seeing anything that's terribly concerning, but we're still working through that," Dwyer said. "That's a longer term process."

When the hack happened, officials took the CAD system down completely and dispatchers were using paper and looking at charts and maps to know where to send emergency units. Ross Twp. Police Chief Burt Roberts said CAD was down for about a week, but departments adjusted.

He said dispatches happened normally, but officers couldn't complete forms from the field.

"We haven't always had computers when it came to doing this stuff," Roberts said. "It really wasn't anything too astronomical to maintain operations. Our tickets are handwritten, our reports were always handwritten, so it wasn't that big of a deal."

The sheriff's office system is separate from the main county system so there was no broad impact. County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News although county technology wasn't corrupted, "every challenge is an opportunity to continuously improve."

"I don't think we are tremendously vulnerable in so many areas but there are certainly things that we can look at," Boyko said. "These bad people are sitting around trying to find ways ... they are businesspeople trying to identify ways to get better at their business. When you have someone with ill intent completely devoted to finding a way, eventually they're going to find a way."

Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison said his agency keeps highly sensitive information about clients, but all four arms of his operation — Children Services, public assistance, child support enforcement and workforce development — are almost exclusively on the state computer systems, which have not been compromised.

The county IT department did a security assessment last year and are working on implementing some of the recommendations. IT Director Eric Fletcher said he is hoping to fill a cyber analyst position this year — he divided the work with no dedicated person previously — and implement other cyber defense mechanisms.

"Obviously cyber is an ever changing event and the federal government even has challenges with it," Fletcher said. "Security-first culture is something we have to practice now, not just us but all governments. It does take changes in the culture, it takes changes with technology and we're looking to move what we've done in the past forward to 2021."

(c)2021 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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