Secretary of State: ‘We’re all vulnerable’ to cyberattacks

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A ransomware attack on public files in Harrison County, where officials were still trying to recover, was being held up as an example of the wide reach of potential cybersecurity threats.

“We’re all vulnerable,” said West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner.

Secretary of State Mac Warner

“Attacks on government, on businesses, on individual citizens are going to continue, there’s no way to stop that. What we can do is prepare ourselves.”

He was in Clarksburg on Wednesday to talk about cybersecurity steps alongside other officials from the Secretary of State’s Office and Harrison County Clerk Susan Thomas.

It’s part of the larger awareness campaign Warner’s spearheading ahead of the 2020 elections.

In June, hackers demanded thousands of dollars from Harrison County officials in the form of cryptocurrency to reopen access to an undisclosed number of public documents encrypted during a ransomware attack on the Harrison County Courthouse.

Weeks later, some records were still only accessible with an encryption key, according to officials.

After Harrison County paid $1,500 initially demanded for the key, the price went up another $3,000 which was not paid.

The FBI joined the investigation into the source of the attack with Clarksburg Police as file restoration work continued via new servers within the Harrison County Courthouse.

“You don’t know whether it’s a criminal element, a terrorist element or an international actor but, in any event, these are happening all across the United States,” Secretary Warner said.

In his view, the ransomware attack in Harrison County was most likely a crime of opportunity.

“They probably did this sort of attack across the U.S. and this was one where they found an open door,” Warner theorized.

“That’s distinguished from a strategic attack where, they say, ‘We want to get inside this county government’s particular, say, election system or sheriff’s office or tax office or whatever.'”

Several other counties in West Virginia have been targeted in varying ways in recent years.

Warner said several security steps have already been taken to shore up county systems in the Mountain State, including election systems.

However, he told MetroNews most attacks were preventable if people remain vigilant about their clicks and downloads.

Keeping up with computer updates were also important preventative steps, he said.

Some previous security training will be revisited during a meeting for county clerks from across West Virginia later this year at Stonewall Jackson Resort in Lewis County along with discussions about lessons learned in Harrison County.

“We’re out there in front, but even though you’re out in front doesn’t mean you won’t be the victim of an attack,” he said.

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