Officials: Some issues remain after Suffolk County cyberattack but 'no compromise to public safety'
Suffolk County officials are still having a hard time sending out emails four days after a cyberattack caused some county communication systems to go down.
The Suffolk Police Department headquarters in Yaphank have walled off their tech systems that connect to any outside computer system and enacted their backup 911 caller system, which is similar to how they operated in the '90s.
Mathew Lewis, the chief of operations at the Suffolk Police Department, says before computers, the operator would write the information down by hand and run it to the dispatcher.
When Suffolk County had the cyberattack on Thursday, police say they immediately went to the backup system that they regularly practiced and brought in additional staffers as runners.
“Any of our computer systems that talk to an outside system have been walled off. I wouldn't call them down, I would call them walled off so an intruder cannot get into our system,” Lewis says.
Police have said it was a seamless transition and there is no increase in response time.
Adam Scott Wandt, an associate professor of public policy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says it is likely that this is a ransomware attack and there was likely not the necessary infrastructure in place.
“This is quite a significant attack, and it is a big deal from the citizens' point of view,” he says. “If the proper resources were not in place, these services might be down indefinitely, until they are rebuilt or until they pay the ransomware.”
While police say the increased staffers have mitigated possible issues for people in Suffolk County, Wandt feels that the computer systems have already been down so long that people will need help navigating it once it is running again.
“Payments and online systems like red light cameras are now online. I think the police departments and court are going to have to help the average citizen when the systems get back online,” he says.
County Executive Steve Bellone's Office says they had a full cybersecurity team in place and that staff and other experts are working together to mitigate the problem.
Meantime, police say they are using alternate forms of communication to reach the public - including texts, social media, calls and meetings if it regards sensitive information.
Experts say governments can protect themselves from ransomware attacks with anti-phishing, multifactor authentication and the proper personnel to protect the entity.