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As Birmingham computer outage continues, city using paper time sheets | #ransomware | #cybercrime


For weeks, Birmingham city workers have been conducting business the old fashioned way — on paper — as many computer systems experienced what Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office called a “network disruption.”

Multiple government sources have told AL.com that the city is the victim of a ransomware attack, with hackers gaining access to the city’s computer systems and demanding payment for the city to get its data back.

“It’s incredibly serious,” said one source at City Hall, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a longstanding practice that the city’s communication office presents official information to the public.

Rick Journey, the mayor’s director of communications, declined to answer whether the city was the victim of a hacker. He said the city will provide more details later.

“As we have shared with city employees, pay will continue uninterrupted. If they have any questions, we encourage them to contact their payroll coordinator within their departments,” Journey told AL.com. “Finance and HR stand ready to assist those payroll coordinators and did so last week after the pay period to address any concerns.”

Stephen R. Cook, president of the Birmingham Firefighters Association, said that city employees are filling out paper time sheets because of the computer outage.

“Nobody knows if they’re being paid the correct rates and the correct amounts of time because we aren’t getting pay stubs,” he said. “There are a lot of manual processes in place with the network out.”

“There are still some problems to figure out in that manual process that they are working through that need to be clarified, but the finance department is 100 percent willing to make sure that everyone is taken care of and is compensated correctly,” Cook said.

Councilwoman Valerie Abbott said the city council has not received an official briefing. She and two other council members deferred to the mayor’s office to speak as authorities on the computer outage.

“To our knowledge it’s not having a big effect on residents. It is having an impact on businesses and people who are coming to get permits,” said Abbott. “I haven’t had anyone call and say, ‘my garbage isn’t being picked up.’”

City officials have stressed that the 911 system has not been affected. Emergency operations remain functional, Journey has said.

Earlier in the outage, the city’s 3-1-1 telephone information system was knocked offline, and digital payments were restricted. But some operations have since resumed. For instance, patrons are again able to make digital payments for city permits.

A ransomware attack happens when a hacker installs malware to lock computer systems and take vital information, then demands money from individuals, companies or governments to get it back.

It has happened to governments across the country. In Alabama, an attack affected services at the Cullman County Revenue Commissioner’s office in 2023. Montgomery County leaders in 2017 paid $37,000 in a ransomware attack to retrieve its data from criminal hackers.

Steve Morgan, founder of Cybersecurity Ventures and editor-in-chief at Cybercrime Magazine, told AL.com it’s not uncommon for governments to try keeping hacks secret.

“Unfortunately, all too often these start out as so-called ‘outages’ or ‘glitches’ or other descriptions so as to avoid reputational harm, embarrassment, or for other reasons,” said Morgan. “Oftentimes the victim organization will finally come forward announcing that it was in fact a breach or malicious intrusion.”

His national publication tracks new cyberattacks and data breaches in its daily “Who’s Hacked” feed.

“There are incidents when a city or municipality on the advice of law enforcement and/or an outside cybersecurity expert or company may deem it in the best interest of the organization to hold back information until such time that an incident has been fully investigated,” Morgan said.



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