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'This was a wake up call for us': Tazewell County nears a full recovery months after cyberattack

Tazewell County Board chairman Dave Zimmerman (right) looks on as Tazewell County Clerk and Recorder John Ackerman speaks at Saturday's special county board meeting.
Tim Shelley
Tazewell County Board chairman Dave Zimmerman (right) looks on as Tazewell County Clerk and Recorder John Ackerman speaks at a special county board meeting last year.

After a late November cyberattack left Tazewell County employees and officials without access to much of their online and communication, the county is nearly back to business as usual and beefing up their cyber security protocols.

County Board Chairman David Zimmerman says the county’s cyber insurance providers Victor Insurance and CFC Underwriting are working on a report that is “about 90% complete.”

“When we have that report back, we hope to have a better line of sight on that,” he said. “But we may never know where the attack initiated from.”

Zimmerman says he’s learned a great deal about cyber security during the county’s ordeal. He says the hacker, or hackers, could have been lurking inside county systems for months before striking. In the wake of the attack, Zimmerman says the county has improved its cyber security resources.

“Some of the new software that we’ve installed can detect people that are not authorized to be in your system almost immediately,” he said. “And it will shut your system down so that no further damage can be done and they can assess the situation.”

Zimmerman says an emergency meeting in December made it possible for the county board to bring in Heart Technologies to install software and implement measures that make the county’s systems eligible to continuously renew their cyber insurance.

The emergency meeting also provided an opportunity to clear up some issues with the county’s cyber insurance premiums. Zimmerman says the provider had an employee count and budget information that was off “pretty dramatically.” The county’s original premium was $4,000.

“It actually was $29,000,” Zimmerman said. “So we had to come up with $25,000 more for the premium and an additional $15,000 for the deductible.”

Fortunately, Zimmerman says the board had approved around $900,000 for IT spending in December. Though most of it was budgeted, there were funds available for the emergency declarations.

“What I learned is that, when it comes to protection, not having proper protection in place can cost you a lot more than actually trying to get by on the cheap,” Zimmerman said. “We were in the process of doing that, just not as quickly as we planned on it. So this was a wake up call for us.”

The county is also in the process of implementing two factor authentication for all of its services.

Zimmerman says the county is almost back to fully operational. The only systems still down are the intranet county employees use for requesting days off and remote access for township assessors to access the supervisor of assessments’ office.

“I think many times these hackers understand that municipalities and counties either don’t have the resources or try to get by on the cheap thinking ‘they would never attack us,’” Zimmerman said. “And I think we’re a case study in the fact that, yes, they will attack you.”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.