Cyberattack turns up the heat on common security problems

A cyberattack on Suffolk County, New York, crippled county services and resulted in the leaking of personal information from hundreds of thousands of its residents late last year.

The hack, which has so far cost the county more than $6 million in recovery expenses according to local reports, prompted Suffolk lawmakers to launch a special legislative committee to investigate its origins. 

Among the departments affected was the Traffic and Parking Violation Agency. Its server was compromised by the attack and some residents’ personal information may have been accessed by hackers, county officials said. While systems were down, emergency responders and other services relied on pen and paper.

A forensic investigation issued in December by Palo Alto Networks cited several factors for the cyberattack, including delayed security upgrades and insufficient management. At a December press conference to discuss the investigation’s findings, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county’s “existing system fails county government and the taxpayers.”

Many of the issues raised by the forensic report highlight ongoing challenges all state and local governments face as they contend with increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

One of the findings blamed Suffolk County’s inability to address the Log4j vulnerability identified by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in 2021, which the investigation found was first exploited by Suffolk County’s hackers that same year.

At the time the Log4j vulnerability was discovered, CISA Director Jen Easterly said in a statement it posed “an unacceptable risk to federal network security.” She not only urged federal agencies to immediately patch their system, but said agencies and organizations “large and small” should “follow the federal government’s lead.”

Bellone said during his press conference that Suffolk County could have followed the federal government’s guidance, but it did not install a $1.4 million hardware update that could have averted the vulnerability. Bellone said in retrospect, he should have “acted more aggressively to address that issue,” although he noted that in June a county committee…