Rome committee gets update on cybersecurity following ransomware attack in Augusta

Wednesday, June 14, 2023–6:43 p.m.

-David Crowder, WRGA News-

Rome IT Director Johnny Bunch gives an update on cybersecurity during Tuesday’s Rome General Administration Committee meeting.

A ransomware attack that disrupted city systems in Augusta is a reminder of how important cyber security is, especially for government entities.

Rome Information Technology Director Johnny Bunch told the city’s general administration committee on Tuesday that protecting against ransomware and other cyber attacks is a 24/7 job.

“It’s consuming a large part of our technology resources right now,” he said. “It’s a huge headache.”

A ransomware attack is when hackers gain control of computer files and then demand a ransom payment, usually millions of dollars, to release the data.

“That’s a struggle we hope to avoid,” Bunch said. “You do the best you can. Other than that, you pray and hope that something doesn’t fall through the cracks.”

Some of the attacks are backed by nation-states like Iran, North Korea, and Russia. They often use cryptocurrency to fund their activities, making the money difficult to trace.

“Ukraine has had an issue for the past two years with Russia, actually much longer than that, but since it’s exploded into the current situation, nation states have just gotten crazy on the wire and we’re feeling the effects of it,” Bunch said. “We’re just collateral damage.”

Bunch would not go into too many specifics about security measures that are in place. Hackers read the news too.  However, he said that the human resources and finance departments are in constant communication with his office to make sure they are doing everything right when it comes to spoof emails. One example involves hackers impersonating employees. They say they have changed bank accounts and ask for their paychecks to be sent to a new account.

Bunch said another important component is the education of employees about which types of emails they should not open. That applies to text messages as well.

“The texts will say a subscription has expired, so click this,” Bunch said. “Another will say a package is on the way but it can’t be delivered, so verify your order. Everything is compromised. The main this is – if you get something, make sure you’re expecting it.  I know there’s curiosity, but the minute you click it, you’re done.”

City of Rome internet network and connectivity upgrade nearing completion

Bunch also updated the general administration committee on work by Comcast to extend fiber optic internet to a number of city-owned facilities.

According to Bunch, they are down to the last few facilities.

“That project involves connecting fiber to the remote fire stations, the police training center, the landfill, and Coosa Wastewater Treatment Plant,” he said. “The police training center and the wastewater treatment plant have always been a struggle, so this is going to be a big improvement for them. We are already putting infrastructure in over at the training center for them to take advantage of the fiber connectivity. I think they are going to be much happier than they have been in the past.”

Comcast is pickup up the connection costs. All the city has to do is pay the monthly subscription.

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