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Rocky Mount had no IT chief during cyberattack

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Rocky Mount Police Chief George Robinson speaks about a cyberattack on the city's computer networks with Mayor Sandy Roberson in the background during a Sept. 2 press conference.
Rocky Mount Police Chief George Robinson speaks about a cyberattack on the city's computer networks with Mayor Sandy Roberson in the background during a Sept. 2 press conference.
Lindell J. Kay | Enterprise
Posted

ROCKY MOUNT — Victim of a recent cyberattack, the city of Rocky Mount hasn’t had a chief technology officer in more than a year.

Long-term Information Technology Director Bruce Harper left city employment in 2018 around the same time several department heads departed city hall. A temporary replacement lasted a few months. The city hired a new technology officer in early 2019, but he quit after working less than a day.

The Enterprise asked about the vacant position during a Sept. 2 press conference related to the cyberattack.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she anticipates hiring someone soon to fill the empty slot. The city council asked Small-Toney about the empty IT position during budget sessions in June where she said she hoped to hire someone within three months, according to meeting minutes.

On Aug. 14, city officials realized their computer networks had been hit with ransomware, which encrypted data including everything from utility billing information to building permits to police reports and investigative files.

“This particular virus spread quickly. Within three seconds of someone signing on, it encrypted their computer,” City Finance Director Amy Staton said during the press conference.

City officials, under advice from FBI agents, didn’t pay the Bitcoin ransom demanded for the release of Rocky Mount government files. The cyberattackers used Conti ransomware, which enters servers via email, malware or download.

City officials said they don’t believe the city was purposely targeted.

The city has recovered 95% of its data and will have to replace 15% of its computers. Officials announced the city is offering free credit monitoring for customers and is urging those customers to change their passwords.

Rocky Mount police and the FBI continue to investigate the incident.

Other local governments in North Carolina — including Orange and Mecklenburg counties — have been hacked in the past.

City officials initially denied Rocky Mount’s network had been hacked when asked about the computer access issues in late August.

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