OLEAN — Another virus has crippled city operations — this one of the digital kind.
On Friday morning, city officials announced that the management information department detected and stopped a computer virus attack on the city’s computers before the opening of business.
“All I can tell you is it was ransomware discovered early in the morning,” Mayor Bill Aiello said, noting the attack could not have come at a worse time as many city employees are working remotely from home. “We were able to minimize the effect of it on our network.”
Most computer systems were offline for about five hours on Friday.
“Our email is back up, the clerk’s office is back up,” Aiello said, although it could take until the middle of next week before everything is back to 100%.
“We’ll have a better idea on Monday,” he said, but noted the online payment portal for water and sewer bills was operating.
The mayor said that private information — such as medical records from the Olean Fire Department’s ambulance service, water billing information and other sensitive data — is not believed to have been accessed or copied from the city’s systems.
Noting the state mandate to have half of the city’s workforce at home or on furlough, many employees have been accessing computer systems remotely.
“Did it make us vulnerable?” the mayor said, noting that the attack came in through one of the older servers operated by the city. “We’ve been upgrading slowly, but we’re going to have to take a look at it faster.”
Since he started working for the city in the 1970s as a police officer, Aiello said the reliance on computers has grown over the decades.
“Now, everything is email,” he said. “When everything goes down, you have to go back to the way you used to do things.”
From having to call individual staff to call off Zoom meetings to missing out on the daily update video by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, virtually all areas of city operations were temporarily affected. The initial press release to the Times Herald was made by photographing a printout of the release and text messaging it to a reporter with a city employee’s cell phone.
Cybersecurity has become a critical issue for governments, agencies and businesses — even here in the Twin Tiers. Bradford, Pa. city officials reported in September that the majority of computers in city hall were rendered useless in a ransomware attack. While not directly attacked, personal student data at Salamanca City Central School District was accessed in 2019 in an attack on a contractor, Pearson Education.
Olean Medical Group was the target of a cyber attack in June 2019 as well.