Cybersecurity Concerns Prompt Montana County Camera Swap | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

(TNS) — Lewis and Clark County commissioners have approved applying for federal funds to improve security at the county courthouse, and replace its current closed-circuit TV system from a Chinese state-owned company.

Jenny Chambers, Lewis and Clark County public works director, told the commissioners at their March 12 meeting the county is pursuing a Montana Disaster and Emergency Services State Homeland Security Grant to replace and expand the courthouse closed-circuit TV camera system, add contact alarms to first floor windows, glass break alarms and installation of an emergency backup power source for the camera system.

She said in early 2022 the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency did a risk assessment of the courthouse and recommended improvements. They included interior intruder-detection devices.

They also found the current camera system, manufactured by Hikvision, is not compliant with the National Defense Authorization Act, she said.

Officials later said Hikvision is a Chinese state-owned manufacturer and is susceptible to cybersecurity attacks. The grant application is for $121,350 to replace the system and increase security at the courthouse, Chambers said. No match of funds is required.

Support letters have been received from the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the District Court Clerk, judges and the county’s historical preservation officer. If the county receives the grant, the new equipment must be installed from Oct. 1, 2024 to Dec. 31, 2025.

Mac McCarley, maintenance technician with building facilities, said the cameras are less than three years old. He said the federal government has ordered the cameras from five Chinese companies be replaced and not online in any manner.

He said Hikvision for 15 years was the “cat’s meow” of camera systems. It was the cheapest and had the highest-quality camera. He said the vendor was also used by the city of Helena and that is how Lewis and Clark County came to use the system.

Commissioner Candace Payne said because it is seen as a cleanup that explains why no match is required.

Justin Webster, emergency manager with Montana DES, said in a telephone interview Monday the funds are to be used for efforts to prepare against terrorism, adding that courthouse and election security and cameras can fall into that category.

Webster said not every Montana courthouse with Chinese-made cameras will go the route of removing them, but they would have to in order to get any federal funds for the security upgrades. He said there was no mandate ordering agencies to address this but “you cannot use federal funds” for Chinese-made cameras.

Those who use their own money and want to buy Chinese cameras still can, he said.

McCarley said at the March 12 commissioners’ meeting the assessment also showed “weaknesses” where there is no coverage such as inmate travel, some stairwells. He said the main concern from the evaluation was a lack of electronic surveillance in the corridor between the jail and the courthouse and poor lighting in that area.

It will also have cameras that will cover the parking lots and angle parking.

“… over my tenure we have had many requests from law enforcement agencies looking for footage for incidents that happened in those areas that we couldn’t provide,” McCarley said.

“Sounds like much-needed repair,” Payne said. The commissioners then voted 3-0 to pursue the grant.

©2024 the Independent Record, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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