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IT problem at city hall fixed; expert says protect yourself from hackers

by Eric Mullens

WALSENBURG — The utilities billing system and other computers are all up and working at Walsenburg City Hall this week, after a computer virus got into the system last week and caused a temporary shut down while experts spent hours moving information from the server’s backup back into the system employees use on a daily basis.

This is really the kind of thing that happens to computers on a daily basis, Huerfano County IT Director Jeff Byland said this week. He said the virus issue wasn’t a big deal and the city was only unable to accept bill payments for about three-quarters of a day. He said the system was operational by Friday, May 13. Byland and Anthony Luginbill from Huerfano County IT department worked on the city’s system under an existing Intergovernmental Agreement for shared information technology services.

Walsenburg City Administrator Leslie Klusmire told the World Journal late last week, while the problem deleted much of the information on the city server, nothing was removed and no utilities customer’s private information was compromised.

On Wednesday night May 11, Walsenburg Finance Director Carolyn Tice was working late and suddenly found she could not access information from the city’s computer system server. The IT team, along with city management was notified and work to restore the system began.

“Ninety eight percent of computer problems are caused by spyware, malware, viruses and Trojan horses,” Byland explained. The real problem with computers and private account information being compromised is due to a lack of knowledge of Internet safety, he said.

He said the city’s main server was attacked by a virus, which is different from other problems many computer users unknowingly download from emails they receive from unknown sources. Even emails that appear to be legitimate, may have a web page or other information that was copied from an original source, but closer inspection of an Internet provider address could prove you have been targeted by a phisher or hacker.

Byland said information used by hackers doesn’t necessarily always come from your computer; it may come from your trash can! He advises any paper records businesses, governments or private individuals have that carry account or social security numbers or other personal information be shredded before they are thrown away as computer information thieves are able to find out more about you or your business that you might imagine from a few scraps of paper.

Another attempted hack was discovered by Klusmire about one month ago, when an email was sent from Mayor James Eccher’s city email account to Tice in the finance department, requesting funds be transferred from one account to another; that strange email was recognized as an attempted electronic fraud by a phisher and was stopped.

Police Chief Tommie McLallen said a three week investigation conducted with the help of an outside agency, tracked the email’s origin initially to Wisconsin, but then the information led to a deadend in Europe.

Byland says recognizing an attempted fraud is important, but if you open a questionable email, it may be too late and your computer could get infected with a virus or something much worse. He said a very important informational tool for anyone using a computer hooked up to the Internet is StaySafeOnline.org.

StaySafeOnline.org says, “Viruses are harmful computer programs that can be transmitted in a number of ways. Although they differ in many ways, all are designed to spread themselves from one computer to another through the Internet and cause havoc. Most commonly, they are designed to give the criminals who create them some sort of access to those infected computers”.

The website also says, “The terms “spyware” and “adware” apply to several different technologies. The two important things to know about them is that:

• They can download themselves onto your computer without your permission (typically when you visit an unsafe website or via an attachment).

• They can make your computer do things you don’t want it to do. That might be as simple as opening an advertisement you didn’t want to see. In the worst cases, spyware can track your online movements, steal your passwords and compromise your accounts.

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