Finney County’s computer network has been shut down twice over the last week in order to protect county data after malware and viruses attacked the network through emails, and with email and internet down, some county departments have been struggling in recent days to provide services.

The county network was shut down on Tuesday morning — the second time in a week — in an attempt to protect data while the malware was located, removed and until preventive safeguards could be put in place.

Because of the attacks, the Finney County Information Technology department requested assistance from the Department of Homeland Security Incident Response Team and Trend Micro, a locally installed anti-virus software company.

Trend Micro became involved on Thursday to create a custom package for the county to fight against the virus.

“With their assistance, we’ve been able to bring email service back to our department directors as of (Thursday morning), as well as a few other essential services, specifically in the clerk’s, treasurer’s, and appraiser’s offices,” according to a press release on Thursday from Sara McClure, the county's communications specialist.

Finney County Clerk Dori Munyan said that as of Thursday afternoon, the clerk’s office was back to normal operations.

The county notified the Kansas Secretary of State's Office earlier in the week about the inconvenience of the network shutdown to comply with voting processes, though Munyan said that as of Friday, there should be no effect on voting.

Munyan said that in-person advance voting began Wednesday, and those registered to vote can do so from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the clerk’s office until Aug. 6.

According to Deputy Treasurer Idania Hernandez, the treasurer’s office is fully operating for tax collection services, with the exception of credit card payments.

“The motor vehicle department is still down at this time,” Hernandez said.

Services that are offered by the motor vehicle department include renewing car tags, processing title work, releasing liens and obtaining handicap placards.

“We are currently providing as much information as we can to citizens coming in with inquiries, so as to prepare them with everything they’ll need when they come back into the office upon services getting reestablished,” McClure said in an email.

Those needing to renew their car tags can do so online at https://ikan.ks.gov, though the county is reminding citizens that the online process can sometimes take a few days. Handicap placards also can be obtained alternatively through any other county motor vehicle department, but there there are no publicly available alternatives for releasing liens or processing title work.

Other departments are being affected, as well.

“Because the motor vehicle department is still down, our personal property division is also down at this time, because they go hand-in-hand,” County Appraiser Maria Castillo said. “On the real estate side, we can still access some information and give values from Orion (the appraiser's office’s computer-assisted mass appraisal software).”

In order to process any title work, the motor vehicle department needs the assessed tax information for that personal property, which comes from the personal property division.

“The personal property division has the technological ability available to retrieve the information, but because the motor vehicle department is unable to process any title work at this time, there are no requests coming to the personal property division for that information,” McClure said in an email.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Finney County Health Department was unable to see patients due to the network shutdown. The department is closed on Fridays.

Health Department Director Colleen Drees said the department’s computers have been cleaned as a result of the network shut down.

“We’re ready to go as soon as we get the green light from the (Finney County) IT department, but then we’ll have to let KDHE (Kansas Department of Health and Environment) know that we are virus free to get the approval to reconnect to state services,” she said.

Kurtis Jacobs, court administrator for the 25th Judicial District, said on Friday that the network issues resulted in closing courts at 11 a.m. Friday for all six counties of the district.

“Chief Judge Robert Frederick made the decision this morning (Friday) to close the courts in all six counties of the 25th Judicial District, which includes Finney, Greeley, Hamilton,Kearny, Scott, and Wichita counties,” Jacobs said.

Despite being a state agency, the courts occupy space in a county building, which is why they experienced issues, as well.

“The IT department had asked that we not use the computers so they could more readily access them and get on the fixing part of this, so the best way for us to do that was to hold emergency hearings only and to close the courthouses, get people off the network entirely,” Jacobs said. “… We have intention of opening all six of the offices up Monday morning at 8 a.m. per usual business hours, and we will assess at that point what our capabilities are and make decisions from there.”

Jacobs said the courts are cooperating with Finney County during the network shutdown.

“They are doing an excellent job of trying to manage this very difficult situation, and we appreciate their help,” Jacobs said.

According to county officials, the county’s IT department previously discovered and addressed potential threats on individual computers. When the threats began piling up faster than they could be addressed, the county shut down the network on July 12 to isolate the threat. When IT believed the infection to be contained and cleaned, the network was brought back online July 13, after which the virus spread again to once-clean devices, according to an earlier release from the county.

Because of backups and other precautions, county officials stated previously that they were, “confident that our data has been completely protected by this network shutdown.”

The county identified the cause of the malware as a “malicious attack” to a computer outside the county’s private network.

“We want the public to be aware that this virus did not originate in the county network and is not contained to the county network. Initial symptoms will be a computer lockup, so many small or individual citizen networks might attempt to restart their computer while their antivirus software may never detect an infection," according to McClure's press release.

The release also stated that the county has determined that the attack is a new virus and can easily pass undetected through many antivirus software.

“The virus is traveling though emails with attachments and links that look like they come from someone you know. Many of the email messages have said something like ‘This is your invoice,’” according to the county's release. “Users should not click on any links or attachments, as this will enact the virus. We encourage everyone to avoid unanticipated emails with links and attachments, and to have their computers cleaned for viruses.”

The county release states the county looks forward to bringing more services online as the week progresses, and will be updating its Facebook Page — Finney County, Kansas — and its website — www.finneycounty.org — with new information as it becomes available.

“We are asking citizens to please call the individual departments, should they have any other questions about services,” the release states.

 

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com.