February 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

WYCO cyberattack was more serious than officials admit

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After initially discounting the event, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County is in recovery mode following the Easter Weekend cyberattack on its systems.

First reported in The Heartlander, the digital trail of the hack indicated the perpetrators were Russians, with the attack emanating from the Ukrainian war zone. Several ransom demands were apparently made, although there’s been no official confirmation from the county.

Days after the incident, official statements in Kansas City, Kansas were calming.

UG Clerk Brent Deichler was upbeat, saying, “I can tell you we are fully operational.”

Mayor Tyrone Garner echoed that assessment.

”There were some departments that were impacted — not to the extent that it stops the kind of workload and services that our residents have come to expect, but those issues are being addressed.”

But a confidential source tells reporter Michael Ryan a different story:

“They had to process a payroll file that was incorrect,” the source said. “They just basically reprocessed the previous payroll file so that people could have money because they couldn’t process it adequately. So now they’re gonna have to go back and make adjustments.

“I have a real problem with our mayor making a public statement that our service level is not adversely affected as a result of the cyberattack when there are some departments and divisions that aren’t even operational at this point.

“I think the public should be concerned, and I think the public has a right to know what’s happening. Obviously, I understand that there are certain aspects of local government and, you know, particularly with the cyberattack, that they have to remain cautious about (releasing) because you don’t want to incite panic. But at the same time, I think this is the public’s information, right?

“I mean, this is important information. Employees don’t know if their personal information was stolen, like their bank information used to process payroll. Residents don’t know if any of our data was compromised. I mean, we just don’t know what to be concerned about.”

Complicating the response initially and currently are two personnel issues in the UG.  A cyber security analyst position paying nearly $91,000 yearly and authorized last fall remains unfilled, the victim of a hiring freeze. And interim County Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee, tasked with managing day-to-day operations of the government, only works part-time as a result of her contract allowing her to remain in her career as a consultant.

District 8 Commissioner Andrew Davis is critical of the arrangement with Harrison-Lee:

“It’s been pretty tough, I won’t lie to you, because it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re getting the service of county administration.  It feels like we’re getting the service of a consultant. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but we didn’t ask for a consultant. We asked for a county administrator.”

Ryan tells The Sentinel his sources didn’t require any prodding to tell their stories:

“This is just the very jagged, very pointed tip of an iceberg of workplace problems beneath the surface at the UG, and they’re very eager to get that part of the hack story out as well. They told us how missing in action that interim county administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee is in the office, and how there’s a climate of “fear and intimidation” toward employees under the new regime.”

A week after its first update, the UG website posted another on its recovery from the hack.

The cyberattack, the UG’s response, and the status of Harrison-Lee will be on the agenda at the April 28th County Commission meeting.

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