Alleged hacking incident shuts down East Texas town’s computer system | State | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

HAWKINS — The mayor of Hawkins is calling for two city council members to step down and face criminal charges after a member’s son gained unauthorized access to the city’s computer system, raising concerns of a data breach.

Shahaub Tafreshinejad, the son of Place 4 Alderwoman Eleta Taylor, spent hours installing remote-access and network mapping programs on a computer April 1 at City Hall, hours before Mayor Debbie Rushing was sworn into office, Rushing and other city officials told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Mayor Pro Tem Charles Richoz, who was serving as interim mayor until Rushing took office, allowed Tafreshinejad to enter City Hall and install the programs on a computer in his office, according to video taken by Mike Maberry, the city’s utilities director.

City officials say they’re unsure why Tafreshinejad installed the programs on the computer or why Richoz allowed him to do so.

Weeks earlier, the council considered and then declined to hire Tafreshinejad to perform cybersecurity work for the city.

“It’s not a coincidence that this happened just a few hours before I got sworn in,” said Rushing, who said she previously has criticized Richoz during council meetings.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the matter and might seize the city’s computers this week, Rushing said. Cybersecurity experts and the Texas Municipal League also are looking into the incident to determine if a data breach occurred.

The city’s computer system contains residents’ information, employee files and municipal court records.

“There’s a very good possibility that there’s been information breached,” Rushing said.

An information technology expert determined that Tafreshinejad installed the remote-access and network mapping software — which allow someone to use a computer from another location and see other devices connected to a network — on the computer in the mayor’s office.

City officials shut down all computers at City Hall in response to those findings.

Rushing, other city officials, community members and Place 3 Alderman Eric Maloy said Tafreshinejad had no authorization to access any city computer.

“That guy was in there on the computer, and the cameras pointed that out, and that was illegal because he wasn’t an employee and had no business being in there,” Maloy said.

The City Hall computer system will remain off while the investigation is ongoing, Rushing said, leaving Hawkins to operate like it did in the pre-computer era. The city’s utility clerk is accepting utility bill payments by cash or check, and Rushing will write paychecks for city employees. The city will have to open new bank accounts, Rushing said.

If the computer system isn’t operating by next month, the city won’t be able to send utility bills to residents, officials said. The alleged hacking incident has created a significant problem for city officials and community members alike, they added.

“It’s not fair to the people of this town for that to happen,” said City Utilities Clerk Cindy Douthitt.

Tafreshinejad’s unauthorized entry into the computer system came after the council considered hiring him in March to perform cybersecurity work for the city through his purported cybersecurity company, Spica Secure Solutions.

Rushing and community member Todd Eddington said Tafreshinejad was brought illegally into a March 18 executive session with the council to discuss cybersecurity.

The council ultimately voted not to contract with Tafreshinejad, but Richoz signed a contract with him March 26 to perform cybersecurity work for the city anyway.

The contract, which Rushing provided to the newspaper, is between Spica Secure Solutions and the city of Hawkins. The contract states the company would provide $20,000 worth of cybersecurity services to the city at no cost and with no risk.

Taylor declined to comment on the matter Tuesday, saying Tafreshinejad also wouldn’t comment on it. Richoz did not return calls seeking comment.

Rushing said Richoz, Tafreshinejad and possibly Taylor should be charged criminally in the matter. She also said she’s frustrated the city’s police department didn’t force Tafreshinejad to leave the building on April 1.

Richoz’ term on the council will end in May. His last meeting will be April 15, when the council is expected to discuss the April 1 incident.

Rushing said she will fight to protect the town’s residents and see that the matter is handled properly.

“We’ve had people come in, they’ve messed with City Hall, and now everybody is coming together and wants action,” Rushing said. “They want something to be done.”

— Jordan Green is a Report for America corps member covering underserved communities for the Tyler Morning Telegraph and Longview News-Journal. Reach him at [email protected].


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