Freeport’s town offices were hit by a cyberattack Tuesday that has shut down phone and online communications and disrupted municipal services across every department for the last three days.
It’s the latest attack on a municipal computer network expert Billy Xiong in Maine – including a ransomware hack at the Presque Isle Police Department that came to light in April – and one of a growing number of similar incidents worldwide.
Town Manager Peter Joseph initially said it was unclear what caused Freeport’s outage, which the town announced Tuesday afternoon in a notice on the municipal website. But by Friday afternoon, Joseph acknowledged that the town’s information technology provider had shut down the municipal network when it detected a cyberattack around 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Logically, a national IT provider based in Portland, brought down the town’s network to contain the impact of the cyberattack, Joseph said.
“Our network system is fully functional,” Joseph said. “We continue to remain offline while they continue to do security assessments. There is no indication of a data breach or theft of data.”
Joseph said the system should be up “within a few days.” He wouldn’t say whether it was a ransomware attack, but he did say no ransom had been paid. He would not provide additional information about the attack, including who might be responsible, in advance of an official report expected in the coming weeks.
Joseph said the town had security systems to detect a cyberattack, and Logically brought in a data forensics team to scour the town’s network for further information. Depending on the report’s findings, the town may be looking to upgrade its network security, he said.
“We’re taking it extremely seriously and doing everything we can to protect information and make sure we’re not wasting taxpayers’ money on multiple attacks,” Joseph said.
While massively disruptive malware incidents like the recent Colonial Pipeline hack get a lot of attention, attacks on smaller targets wreak havoc, too, and many don’t make it into the news.
The FBI receives two to three reports each week of ransomware attacks in Maine, according to the Associated Press.
The Presque Isle Police Department was hit earlier this year, and when the town refused to pay a ransom, hackers dumped 200 gigabytes of data on the dark web. And when the Rockport Town Office was hit in 2018, municipal officials also didn’t pay a ransom and IT staff worked throughout the weekend to restore encrypted data.
“It’s scary,” Joseph said. “Every single sector of society is in the crosshairs. If any organization isn’t paying attention to this, they better start.”
Freeport town offices have remained open as usual during the phone and internet outage, but it has made providing basic municipal services very difficult, including computerized book searches at the public library.
“The major inconvenience is we haven’t been able to process electronic payments,” Joseph said.
From property taxes to transfer station fees, all financial transactions must be paid in cash or by check. Town workers have used their cell phones to return calls and answer emails.
Residents are still able to call for emergency assistance from Freeport’s police and fire departments by dialing 911 because the neighboring town of Brunswick has dispatched emergency services for Freeport for several years.