• Lake City comes under cyberattack, FDLE to assist investigators

    By: Ryan Nelson , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    LAKE CITY, Fla. - The city of Lake City’s email and credit card systems are shut down after a triple threat ransomware attack on Monday.

    Police say the systems were turned off by the city to prevent the malware from spreading. 


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    Action News Jax IT manager Stephen Sesnick says ransomware can allow hackers to lock you out of your own computer’s data, and refuse to give you access, unless you send them your hard-earned dollars. 

    He tells us hackers often find victims through email phishing campaigns. 

    If someone opens an attachment containing a virus from one of those emails, he says it can open the door for hackers to gain control of your stored information on your computer.

    “They make the data on the computer unusable until you pay them,” said Sesnick. 

    Action News Jax Reporter Ryan Nelson spoke one-on-one with Lake City Police Department Sgt. Mike Lee on Tuesday. 

    Lee says he has not been made aware of any attempt by a hacker to collect a ransom from the city following the threat. 

    He tells us the malware entered the city’s systems through email on Monday, but says the specific email carrying the virus can’t be pinpointed while the networks are down.

    Lee says networks are shut down as a safety precaution. 

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    “As soon as the breach was detected, all of the systems were immediately put on shutdown,” said Lee. 

    Lee says the FDLE is being brought in to assist in the investigation, and outside security consultants have been hired to help recover data that can’t be accessed while the systems are offline. 

    He tells Action News Jax there’s no indication the sensitive personal information of Lake City neighbors, like credit or debit card data, or billing information, have been compromised.

    Police say this information is stored elsewhere by an offsite third-party vendor. 

    “The only information that could have been compromised, or that we at this point have any indication would even be within the realm of possibility, would have been publicly available data anyway,” said Lee. “Public records, public information, things that are not private or sensitive.”

    Meanwhile, Lake City neighbors are adjusting to current backup paper systems in place for receipts and building permits.

    Many were forced to pay their utility bills in cash Tuesday, with credit and debit card systems down. 

    “I mean, you have to go to your bank, get the cash,” said Lisa Bennett, a Lake City woman who says she just recently moved to the city. “It’s just a little bit more difficult. It’s easier to go paperless.”

    Lee says the city’s also facing some internal communication challenges. 

    “Within the City, obviously there are things that are dysfunctional now because we have no network access,” said Lee. 

    Lee also tells Nelson the City’s public safety communications lines, pertaining to police and fire rescue, were not impacted by the threat.

    He says these lines of communication are on their own network and encrypted. 

    “The police networks, the police databases, all of that is still operational,” said Lee.  “9-1-1, telephone systems, radio systems, are all fully functional.”

    The city’s response to the threat on Monday also included a shutdown of the phone lines, though Lee says most of the phones were up and running again by Tuesday afternoon.

    Action News Jax Law and Safety Expert Dale Carson says criminals often go after governments and companies hoping to make a lot of money.

    He tells us finding those responsible can be extremely difficult for investigators.

    “There’s no DNA, there’s no fingerprint, you can’t track them down, it’s worldwide,” said Carson. 

    Sesnick recommends paying close attention to the emails and attachments you read and open, and keeping your security systems up to date. 

    “Never open an attachment from somebody that you do not know,” he said. “… And absolutely are positive that it’s something that you need.”

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