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County Remains Tight-Lipped about Cybersecurity Incident

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Over the Easter weekend, there was a noticeable disruption of Hernando County’s Information Technology (IT) services. Many of the county government websites were unreachable.

There has been much discussion on social media and in the news media about whether this was a ransomware attack and/or if data was stolen. With the little information that has been provided and the length of the outage, it is understandable that people are fearing the worst.

According to Dominique Holmes, the County’s Public Information Officer, the County has contacted the Federal Government Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Digital Florida and they are working with the Clerk’s Office Incident Response Team. The Clerk’s Office runs the county’s IT Department. Digital Florida addresses cybersecurity incidents at the state level.

The Board of County Commissioners Workshop that was scheduled for last week had to be rescheduled and this week’s regular Board of County Commissioners meeting on April 9 was not livestreamed. A Facebook post by the county on the morning of April 9 stated that the meeting would be in-person due to the “countywide IT network interruption.”

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Last week, websites for the Hernando County Property Appraiser, Clerk of Court’s Office, Building Department, and others were down. Many are still not functioning or have limited functionality.

The Property Appraiser’s Office was closed last week but is now reopened with limited capacity. Their website still has several functions disabled. The Clerk of Circuit Court’s website is still down as of April 9 and the Tax Collector’s website is up, but RenewExpress and Concealed Weapon License are unavailable.
The main County website is operating, but many of the links to departments are being affected by the outage. Most are still operating.

Both the Building Department and the Zoning Department are limited by the property appraiser’s information not being available. The Building Department is accepting paper permits and Zoning is accepting paper applications.

Emergency services such as the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, 911, and the Fire Department are operational during this outage. The Hernando County Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections websites are also functioning. Libraries are open.

Email has been down for many county employees. This means that responses are delayed. For the current status of county service, you can check their website https://www.hernandocounty.us/departments/departments-a-e/emergency-management/countywide-it-network-interruption.

It is standard practice to prepare for IT outages ahead of time and have a playbook ready of the steps that will be taken. This allows a thought-out response even under difficult circumstances. These events usually take place when a large number of staff members are not available. From the information provided about the incident, this appears to be what has been taking place.

The County’s IT outage is under active investigation and therefore, information is closely guarded. At the close of the investigation, more details will be available.

The lack of information has proved frustrating to county residents, but deeper concerns lie in whether data has been compromised.

In a statement to Hernando Sun, Lisa Hammond, a local project management professional, remarked, “My concerns extend beyond mere inconvenience; they touch upon both personal and economic matters. I worry about the security of financial information stored for utility and tax payments. Has the attack breached Clerk of Court records, potentially jeopardizing property ownership through fraudulent transfers?”

“Furthermore, the unavailability of the Property Appraiser site has created obstacles for many residents, myself included, who are in the process of closing on mortgage loans. With appraisal information inaccessible, questions arise regarding the status of rate locks nearing expiration. Additionally, the backlog of mortgage closings has far-reaching implications for notaries, appraisers, closing companies, and lenders.”

“Despite these pressing concerns, the County’s response has been disappointingly silent,” stated Hammond.

The City of Brooksville’s livestream/video system experienced an outage at the end of February due to a technical issue that city officials said would cost the City $18,000 to fix. The March City Council meetings were not livestreamed. The City was able to find a solution to livestream for the April 1, 2024 meeting. City of Brooksville Mayor Blake Bell says that the outage was not in any way related to the one Hernando County is experiencing.

Holmes responded to a further comment request on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our investigation into the Countywide IT Network Interruption is ongoing; therefore, we are unable to provide specific information at this time. Should we determine that sensitive information is impacted, we will provide a further update and notify impacted parties directly. At this time, we have no evidence to show that any information has been misused. For any updates, please visit www.HernandoCounty.us/NetworkInterruption.”

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