Depite demand for retraction, Hawkins mayor stands behind statements on cybersecurity incident | Local News | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

HAWKINS — Hawkins Mayor Debbie Rushing said Friday she stands behind her statements that the son of a City Council member broke the law in early April when he performed a “cybersecurity audit” of the city’s computer system.

Rushing accused Shahaub Tafreshinejad, the son of Place 4 Alderwoman Eleta Taylor, of hacking into the city’s computer system on April 1, hours before Rushing was sworn into office.

Rushing and other city officials shut down the city’s computer system over concerns that a data breach might have occurred, and the Texas Rangers opened an investigation into the matter. Rushing and other city officials said Tafreshinejad didn’t have authorization to access the city’s computer system.

Following a Hawkins City Council meeting Monday, Tafreshinejad gave Rushing a letter demanding that she retract her statements to local news outlets about the incident, saying her “baseless allegations” have been “inherently injurious” to his reputation.

“[D]amages will be sought for the emotional and mental anguish he has endured because of your actions as well as the loss of income and potential earning he and his business has suffered due to your defamatory actions,” the letter states.

On April 1, Tafreshinejad spent hours at City Hall, where video footage captured by the city’s utilities director showed him working on a computer in the mayor’s office. Former interim Mayor Chuck Richoz allowed him into the building to perform a “cybersecurity audit” of the city’s computers, Richoz said during an April city council meeting.

Richoz had signed a contract with Tafreshinejad to perform the work at no cost to the city. However, the council never approved the agreement. Council members, including Taylor, in March considered paying Tafreshinejad $36,000 to perform cybersecurity work for the city, even though law prohibits relatives of city officials from being paid to do work for the cities the officials serve.

The city’s information technology expert determined that remote access and network mapping software had been installed on the computer in the mayor’s office, giving the person responsible access to the city’s computer network. Rushing and city officials subsequently unplugged City Hall computers.

City Hall employees worked without computers for weeks until new computers were installed in late April. Town residents made utility bill payments with cash or checks, and city officials were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to send utility bills to customers, losing tens of thousands in revenue.

Rushing told the News-Journal in early April that Taylor, Richoz and Tafreshinejad should face criminal charges relating to the incident. She told residents during the April 15 meeting that “I know that a crime was committed.” Tafreshinejad asked who committed the crime, and Rushing replied: “You did, Shahaub. And you gained access using a city councilman.”

Tafreshinejad told the News-Journal following that meeting that he did not commit any crimes.

“I am a cybersecurity professional with extensive experience. I know what I’m doing,” he said.

In his letter to Rushing, dated May 18, Tafreshinejad wrote that Rushing had 30 days to issue a formal retraction of her statements to local news outlets and clear him of wrongdoing.

“The gravity of the accusations leveled against him, and his company cannot be overstated,” the letter stated. “The dissemination of these false accusations has precipitated considerable reputational damage.”

On Friday, Rushing said she stands behind her statements that Tafreshinejad’s actions were illegal.

“Everything I’ve said is facts and truths,” she said.

Rushing said Tafreshinejad slid the letter under the door of her office following Monday’s city council meeting and said, “You’ve been served.”

“It was a scare tactic, and it just didn’t work,” Rushing said. “Because it’s not from a lawyer. There’s not a lawyer signature on it. There’s not lawyer letterhead on it. It’s just paper.”

Tafreshinejad did not reply to emails requesting comment..

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Sam Albritton told the News-Journal on Tuesday that the agency has no updates on its investigation into the possible hacking incident.


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