Mat-Su Borough computer virus repair costs top $2M
It’s been three months since a cyber attack hit the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the cost of repairing the damage has now topped more than $2 million.
IT director Eric Wyatt said part of that cost is the hundreds of man hours it took to rebuild and forensically analyze the borough’s 500 computers and 150 servers.
He said about 40 percent of the cost was spent on upgrades the borough had originally planned for several years down the road. Upgrades that are typically made over the course of two-to-three years were crammed into just a couple of months.
“We have more firewalls, more types of antivirus, anti-malware software in play, much better monitoring than we had in the past,” Wyatt explained. “These were projects we had on the books and were hoping to get funded in the next few years. They’re all funded now.”
In late July, the Mat-Su Borough announced it had been hit by Trojan horse malware, one that was relatively new and extremely sophisticated.
Wyatt said it likely got in through an email. He said hackers monitored communication between the borough and other agencies and likely sent an attachment in an authentic-looking email.
“Once this Trojan is inside, it open the door for all its nasty friends. Then there are other kinds of malicious software or malware that’s been brought into the network,” Wyatt said.
Without technology each department had to learn a different way of operating. Staff at the landfill wrote hand tickets; the purchasing department staff dug out an old typewriter to ensure orders still got filled on time.
Brad Pickett, the borough’s assessor, said the only way his department was able to function and give people their tax amounts was from a spreadsheet the IT department found.
“We rely on our computers, everything is electronic. Very few paper files any more,” Pickett said. “I think moving forward we’ll keep more paper files and find ways to not be as dependent on our computers. Because without them, it’s tough.”
Just days after the Mat-Su attack, the city of Valdez was hit by the same kind of virus. Wyatt said, since then, the Mat-Su Borough staff have been able to share the information they’ve learned about the virus with other vulnerable communities.
“I’ve told my team we took one for the team and our team is the larger Alaskan community. By getting the word out quickly, we were able to save a lot of our friends and neighbors from the same kind of attack,” Wyatt said.
One of the last public services to go back online will be swim lesson sign-ups. Wyatt said parents should be able to use the borough’s e-commerce page to sign up on Oct. 31.
The IT department is still recovering. Wyatt said it may never go back to operating the way it had been. He said cyber attacks are the new reality, one his team will face head on.
“Our security posture has changed at this point. Not one of prevention, but one of containment. These things are going to come in in the future and what we want to do is contain them and have the smallest amount of damage possible.”
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