Charles at the Beach: Internet criminals temporarily took your Crime Log

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Charles M. Kelly

But the police have brought it back

A man phoned me recently to ask what happened to the Crime Log. Last weekend, an employee of a local coffee shop also asked what happened to the crime log.

The answer to both of them: Some cyber criminals attacked the city’s IT provider, one consequence of which was to temporarily Leave Seal Beach readers without a Crime Log. In case you missed it—and some folks apparently did—an internet attack occurred against the city’s IT provider on Dec. 24. We put the news on the front page as soon as we knew about it and I’ve reported on the impact on the Crime Log three times now—in a front page brief and in the “Ongoing and upcoming local issues” feature.

Yet some folks still didn’t get the story. In a town of 25,000 people, that’s just the way life works.

The good news, as of Feb. 3, is that Sgt. Nick Nicholas reported the police records system had been restored. Records staff were working on a backlog that includes police work and Public Record Act requests.

I remember advising the police to focus on getting restarted, rather than trying to catch up with the logs we would have received if not for the so-called ransomware attack.

Last week, Sgt. Nicholas said he might have news about the Crime Log by Monday, Feb. 10.

The documents started rolling in Monday morning. Just in time for me to cover the City Council and work on the Crime Log at the same time. (I volunteered for this life, I volunteered for this life, I volunteered … )

As for the attack itself:

The attack was directed at the company that provides our IT services.

To oversimplify, hackers took the city’s computer took the city’s computer systems hostage.

Law enforcement is currently investigating the “ransomware attack.”

I have been informed that the Seal Beach Police Department is not the lead agency investigatign the cyber crime.

The city’s December press release remains the city’s official statement on the matter.

We published the statement on the front page of the Sun at the start of January, but people apparenlty tuned out when they saw the word “ransomware” in the headline. That’s our fault. We should have revised the headline.

Ransomware attacks can hit anyone. I’ve experienced two such attacks in my own life. A few years ago I was surfing the internet at home when suddenly the FBI logo appeared on my computer screen next to a photo of then-President Barack Obama, accompanied by a message that I had violated the law and that I needed to pay a fine or face criminal prosecution. The message called on me to turn my money into gift cards and “send” the cards to the “FBI.”

I’m a small time reporter, and I know the FBI doesn’t collect fines. Neither does the president—not any president. This was an obvious scam. I fumed for a few minutes, drank a little coffee, and then decided to reformat my computer. I lost about 30 to 45 minutes of “work” that was strictly for my own benefit. Better than spending money on a computer repair service, a new computer or paying ransom to criminals.

It wasn’t my first run in with this scam.

Many years earlier, a computer at a business where I was working got hit by “adware,” a brazen variation on ransomware that replaced my computer “desktop” with a large advertisement for security software that promised to protect my computer from adware—provided I bought their product. The adware didn’t lock up my browser—those crooks weren’t very bright—and it took me about 3 minutes to find an online forum frequented by individuals who had encountered the same scam by the same company. I followed the instructions and fixed the problem.

Earlier this year, Councilman Thomas Moore announced that city staff was working on a long-term IT (internet technology) program. In the near future, Seal Beach City Council will be talking about the budget. May I respectfully suggest putting some emphasis on cyber-security?