Progress being made in Covington cyber attack

COVINGTON, La. — Some progress has been made after the City of Covington’s computer system was hijack by hackers late last week. 

However, it could still be weeks before everything is fully operational.

“We should expect a ransom note in order to get our information back to us, they have not done that as of yet, so we don’t know how much they’re asking,” Mayor Mark Johnson said.

City of Covington officials aren’t waiting though. In fact, for six days straight and counting, a team of experts has been working to get things up and running.

“Something called the Cyber Security Alliance, a state consortium consisting of the State Homeland Security Cyber Experts, Louisiana State Police and New Orleans Field Office of the Secret Service were all in Covington City Hall within 240 minutes dissecting our equipment,” Johnson said.

So, here’s what they do know. According to Johnson, the City of Covington’s computer systems were hacked last Wednesday night.

“The bad guys found a way to go through Microsoft Outlook Email, that was their loophole,” he said.

Police, fire, public works and other city employees were all locked out of their computers. It also shut down their phone system, which is still down. Now about a week later, some employees are back online, while other departments are having to improvise.

“Public works is fully functional, cultural arts and events, parks and recreation, building permits, everyone now is operating,” Johnson said. “Utility Billing was severely hampered because most of what they do is on the computer. Now, they’re using another method where they write it down on paper when you pay your bill. Eventually we’ll have to enter all the data into the system.”

The hack was part of a much larger one, affecting about 30,000 organizations, entities, municipalities nationwide. It’s still unclear if personal information was affected.

“Since we’re still in the diagnostic phase we don’t know what they took if they took anything,” Johnson said.

A timeline is also unknown.

“The cyber security guys were very clear it will be fixed when it’s fixed,” Johnson said. “It has been shared to me that when this recently happened with a neighboring parish’s school system, it took about three weeks. So we don’t know two weeks, four weeks, we can’t be certain.”

Still with a strong team working day and night, there’s optimism a solution will be found.

Johnson says this is a good reminder for residents to make sure online accounts are extra protected and secure. Utilize strong passwords and always enable two-factor authentication when possible.

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