BELLE FOURCHE — The Belle Fourche city servers were hacked into Thursday. City personnel said the hacking efforts were thwarted during the attack and that the city does not believe sensitive information was compromised.
Nora Erhart, payroll and human resources clerk, who works in the city’s finance office, said her desktop computer was one that was affected by the Thursday morning hack.
“Somehow or another they (the hackers) got into our system through a program that we had put in so that we could have documents and stuff out on the cloud,” Erhart said Friday. “And they got ahold of that password somehow.”
Cloud storage is a model of data storage in which digital data is stored in online servers instead of locally on a computer drive.
After the hacker(s) got into the city’s server, Erhart said, they began to encrypt programs.
“As far as we can tell, they did not encrypt data,” she said. “But that we’re not positive on.”
The city utilizes a system for the backup, storage, and recovery of computer files. Erhart said city staff performed a restoration of the server and its systems by utilizing a backup that was performed just hours before the hacking was suspected to have taken place.
“We’ve got the server up and running, and most of the computers are OK,” she said.
Erhart’s was of the city’s desktop computers known to have been affected; the other, she said, was in the city’s water office.
When the hacking was discovered, Erhart said city staff within city hall shut down their computers and changed program passwords in an effort to fix the issues.
“Because we started to see we couldn’t work,” she said.
However, Erhart said the hackers were able to get through the entire encryption process on the IT (information technology) server, and when the process was completed, a message popped up on the IT staff member’s computer screen asking for a ransom for the recovery of the data. That server, Erhart said, will be wiped clean.
City IT staff worked in conjunction with the internet service provider and traced the IP (internet protocol) addresses to Russia and Nigeria. An Internet Protocol address is a numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the internet protocol for communication.
“So I don’t know what they want with our data, but fortunately they didn’t get into the data part; they just locked us out of our programs,” she said.
As for the sensitive information stored on the city’s server, Erhart said the city is confident that none was compromised.
Belle Fourche Police Chief Marlyn Pomrenke denied any knowledge of the hacking of city servers and added that the police department’s computers and programs have not been affected.
“Just to put the public at ease, I’ve checked with our (the city’s) IT person, that we’re up to what we should be (in terms of electronic data safety at the police department),” he said. “We’ve made improvements over the last year on our computer system, and he (the city’s IT staff member) assured me we’re doing really well.”
When asked whether the city thought the hacking could be connected to the recent fraudulent spam emails received by community members, Mayor Gloria Landphere said she was not sure.
At the Dec. 18, 2017, city council meeting, Landphere warned members of the public of potentially fraudulent spam emails from someone posing to be the city.
During the meeting, she said the city had received numerous reports of email messages that appeared to be from the city of Belle Fourche stating that there is an incorrect or overdue invoice and asking that people click on a link within the email. The emails were not sent from the city, and community members were asked to notify the city if anyone received the fraudulent emails.
As for precautionary measures to prevent a potential future attack, Landphere said she and city staff will continue to work together with the city’s internet service provider related to the attack.
“We will do everything that we can to secure the data for the city,” Landphere said.