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La Salle County computer system is on the mend after ransomware attack

Officials believe no data has been stolen

La Salle County Clerk Lori Bongartz sorts Wednesday through tax parcel books, which provide information to look up redemption amounts on late property taxes. While many La Salle County departments still wait for computer networks to be restored, many services are doing things "the old-fashioned way" or using work arounds.
La Salle County Clerk Lori Bongartz sorts Wednesday through tax parcel books, which provide information to look up redemption amounts on late property taxes. While many La Salle County departments still wait for computer networks to be restored, many services are doing things "the old-fashioned way" or using work arounds.

After hundreds of hours of work the past week by IT staff, La Salle County officials are hopeful they are a week away from returning their computer system to normal.

The county's governmental offices were infected with a ransomware attack Feb. 23 that took down email accounts, limited access to documents and caused many county services to be provided "the old-fashioned way" with paper.

Ransomware is a malicious software attack designed to block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid.

John Haag, La Salle County IT director, said officials still aren't sure how the county was infected. There is no evidence any county data has been compromised other than the ability to access it on local machines, Haag said Wednesday.

The county has no intentions of paying the ransom, noting there is no guarantee the operators would fully cooperate, Haag said. County officials have not been in contact with the hackers, and can't confirm the ransom amount.

While officials are hopeful the county can return to normal by next week, Haag still is preaching patience. He said IT staff, with assistance from vendors, has to restore systems on a server by server basis. He said he and his staff of three others put in roughly 100 hours of work apiece last week.

The FBI and state agencies have assisted La Salle County, and the matter still is under investigation.

La Salle County Chairman Jim Olson, D-Seneca, said he believes the correct technology protections were in place, but the County Board still intends to review what happened.

"Obviously we didn't stop it," Olson said. "There may be some things that you can never stop, but we wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't re-evaluate emails and Internet access. We want to learn from it to make it safer."

Public safety departments, such as the sheriff's office and state's attorney's office, have received preference in restoration.

The Circuit Clerk Department's computers were not affected, said Circuit Clerk Greg Vaccaro. That department records all traffic, criminal, civil and juvenile cases filed and heard in La Salle County. The office deals in the collection and disbursement of fines, fees and child support. None of these services were affected.

The La Salle County State's Attorney's Office has been depended on the circuit clerk's office to obtain most of its essential documents, such as subpoenas and charging documents, or the sheriff's office for background checks. The office is used to having these items at its fingertips, but with the network down, staff has had to lean on other departments.

"Courts have not slowed down," said La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly. "It's no hurdle we can't overcome. It's just taken some more time."

Additionally, the March 17 primary election has not been affected, said County Clerk Lori Bongartz. Early voting started Feb. 6 and continues to Monday, March 16. Early voting recording is offline, Bongartz said.

Other services in the county clerk's offices have been slowed, Bongartz said. The office handles marriage licenses, birth and death certificates. In some cases, the office has directed the public to other offices that have access to those records.

"We're doing everything by hand," the county clerk said Wednesday. "We have to look up tax parcels in the books. We're still taking cash payments, writing out receipts and taking money as usual. We're just going old school."

Recording documents such as land deeds, mortgages, liens and contracts are on hold in the recorder's office. The recorder's office still is accepting documents by mail and hand delivered. Those documents are reviewed for accuracy and recordable conformity. If documents are in recordable form, a date is being placed on them and they will be recorded in the order they were received when the system returns. They will be locked in a safe and kept secure, Recorder Karen Miller said.

The La Salle County Jail's inmate search website has been down and sheriff's daily arrest reports have been sent to media via handwritten faxes.

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