HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Cyber security experts in Huntsville say ransomware can be avoided if an IT system is backed up.
It’s unclear if the Madison County Jail had a back up.
On Feb. 18, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong made comments to WAFF 48′s Chris Joseph last week that suggest the system could be infected by ransomware.
It's software that holds the system hostage until someone pays up.
- Joseph: Chairman, I’m obligated to ask. Ransomware. What’s the deal?
- Strong: No comment.
- Joseph: No comment?
- Strong: If you think about it, you’re a smart guy.
- Joseph: Yeah
- Strong: What happens if we go get a bunch of s*** in the media right now. They up how much we pay. I represent the taxpayers of this county. I’m always helpful to whoever I can help. You’re a smart guy.
- Joseph: Right
- Strong: What do you think happens if we get on every other TV station....(inaudible)
- Joseph: I don’t know, I mean if you’re negotiating millions of dollars, that could be...
- Strong: Where'd you get that?
- Joseph: Millions?
- Strong: You’re the one that just said that. I said where’d you get that at?
- Joseph: We heard it through the grapevine from multiple people now.
- Strong: Okay (greets guest)
- Strong: Like I say, it’s one of these things, when you think about it, I have to represent this county. I thought if anybody you could understand that. The last thing I would want to do is go do something that could cost us another 25 cents more.
- Joseph: Right...
- Strong: We have a very limited budget as it is.
- Joseph: Understood, understood. But you are negotiating with them right now right?
- Strong: I’m not negotiating with nobody.
- Joseph: Ok, understood.
Neither he nor Sheriff Kevin Turner have elaborated on the comments.
Regardless of the cause, the jail has suffered from a compromised computer system which has delayed bond, resulted inaccurate roster work and slowed the county court system.
Earlier in February the contractor that built the jail IT system, SmartCop, said it’s working to fix the issues, but won’t say what the issues are.
H2L Solutions cyber security professionals Erin Green and Peyton Guy said ransomware could be prevented with training and avoided with an effective back up system.
“If it doesn’t look like it’s coming from a secure website, don’t click on it,” Green said.
They said ransomware could come through something as simple as an email or a word document.
Having a system back up would allow the agency to access its files without paying the ransom.
“You’d want to disconnect it from your system then harden your system again, so you’d be able to put your files back on to whatever network you have,” Green said.
“It could be that they’re able to find a solution that’s not paying, but they’re not speaking so we can’t really say,” Guy said.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Brent Patterson didn’t respond to requests for answers on jail IT system maintenance.
The 2019 Madison County employee handbook does state “Internet users should take the necessary anti-virus precautions before downloading or copying any file from the Internet. All downloaded files are to be checked for viruses.”
State ordinances designed specifically for Madison County do not address IT maintenance.
It's unclear how much it could cost the county to pay any ransomware.
However, a recent ransomware attack in Baltimore cost the city $18 million.