South GA cities beef up cyber-security - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

South GA cities beef up cyber-security

In the past year, the cities of Atlanta and Savannah had to pay ransoms to computer hackers to retrieve the function of their hardware and their data. (Source: WALB) In the past year, the cities of Atlanta and Savannah had to pay ransoms to computer hackers to retrieve the function of their hardware and their data. (Source: WALB)
"That's probably one of the things that keeps me up at night more than anything else. Making sure our network is protected," said City of Albany and Dougherty County Chief Information Officer Steven Carter. (Source: WALB) "That's probably one of the things that keeps me up at night more than anything else. Making sure our network is protected," said City of Albany and Dougherty County Chief Information Officer Steven Carter. (Source: WALB)
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Attacks on city computer systems have become a much more serious crime issue. 

In the past year, the cities of Atlanta and Savannah had to pay ransoms to computer hackers to retrieve the function of their hardware and their data.

Even smaller towns like Leeds, Alabama have been hacked by criminals. 

South Georgia cities are taking notice, and steps are being taken to protect their computer systems and your personal information they store. 

Protecting you from a local level

Lee County is upgrading its entire computer system, from the servers up.

"We've already upgraded our firewalls. We're working on upgrading our software for email. Also the software on our servers as well," said Lee County I.T. Director Jason Schultz.

Lee County commissioners approved more than $200,000 worth of upgrades and new equipment about eight months ago. Officials said they confirmed several hack attacks on their systems but were able to fight them off. Commissioners knew they had to be better protected.

"Yes, it's a real threat. It happens every day," said Schultz.

The city of Albany and Dougherty County I.T. department is much larger, with 22 employees, serving more than 2,400 computers. But it still faces the same threats.

"That's probably one of the things that keeps me up at night more than anything else. Making sure our network is protected," said City of Albany and Dougherty County Chief Information Officer Steven Carter.

Carter said Albany makes daily security upgrades to its networks of systems. 

Besides the service desk, there are two other major data centers with back up protections throughout. There is also constant monitoring with an incident response team.

"Those guys we call 'The Bad Actors,' those guys only have to be right once. We have to be right every single day, all day, every day. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Security don't get a vacation. It don't get a holiday," explained Carter.

Getting some outside help

At $14,000 a month, Lee County has contracted with Network Technology Solutions to help with the security upgrades.

One of the main improvements will be to the counties back up systems, making sure all data is stored safely.

MORE: Data security from the Federal Trade Commission

A ransomware attack in several cities took over and masked the city's data, making it unusable, locking down its entire system.

Those cities had to pay ransom to the hackers to get control back.

"The ransomware, a lot of times, will try to encrypt our data. So if you don't have a good backup strategy, you can't recover that data in the event of such a disaster," said Network Technology Solutions Sr. Network Engineer Matthew Bradshaw.

The municipalities both share the same multiple layer strategy of protection against ransom attacks.

Knowing what it takes to keep the data safe

Lee County is adding the latest detection monitors.

Albany security experts said they upgrade their detection plans constantly, as hackers work to find a hole through.

"And we're hoping as the bad threat actors get nearer and nearer our system, one of those layers is going to step in and actually protect us," said Carter.

One of the ways hackers are successful planting malware is by emails to employees.

One employee opening the wrong attachment can lead to a successful hack.

So, the newest equipment and software is being designed to combat that style of attack because a lot of your personal and financial information is known by your city and county.

It costs a lot, but it's money that has to be invested to protect your information.

 "We work hard every day to ensure that the citizens and employees are protected as much as possible," said Cater.

"It's really going to benefit everybody. Not just the I.T. department or just employees of Lee County. It's going to benefit the citizens as well. Knowing their information is protected from the outside," Shultz explained.

Both Lee County and Dougherty County said they give constant training to employees about protecting against email style attacks. They even send out test emails, to see which employees open what could be a ransom attack.

Both I.T. managers also said they have improved security against the most basic hack, crooks physically breaking into their buildings where their computer network equipment is located and hacking it in person.

Copyright 2018 WALB. All rights reserved.

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