Cyber threats

Hackers targeted St. Anthony's email and computer system last month, prompting the city to upgrade its email cybersecurity. 

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The City of St. Anthony will be upgrading its email and computer system threat protection after an unsuccessful hacking attempt that occurred last month.

“They were knocking at our door,” said City Clerk Patty Parkinson. “They were there trying to get in.”

During the city council meeting on April 22, Parkinson announced to the council that she got a call from the FBIa informing her that hackers were trying to gain access to the city’s online system.

“At first when I got the call I was like ‘yeah right, whoever you are —Mr. FBI’,” Parkinson said. “Here we are in little St. Anthony, Idaho but the thing that’s happening is they’re getting people. That’s how they make their money and they’re busy.”

Ransomware is a type of malicious software or malware, used by hackers, that prevents an individual, agency or business from accessing computer files, systems or networks, according to the FBI. Hackers then demand a ransom for the return of access.

In 2019, the city of Riviera Beach, Florida, paid nearly $600,000 in ransom to hackers who took control of the city’s computer system.

The city has had hackers attack its website before. Parkinson said she once got a call from an anonymous hacker that wanted a ransom payment to give back control to the city’s website in 2016. She did not give in to the ransom and told the hackers the city would handle its business physically, informing them that they could have the website.

Little did the hackers know they had taken control of the website for St. Anthony, Idaho when they were trying to take over the website for St. Anthony, Minnesota, she said.

“I finally drove down to them that we weren’t St. Anthony, Minnesota. The next day everything was fine, up and running. Didn’t cost us a dollar,” Parkinson said.

The hackers were angry at a St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer who shot a black man at a traffic stop and wanted to retaliate against the city and its police department by taking control of the city’s website, Parkinson said. The officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter but was found to be not guilty.

“After that, I walked into the office with so many voicemails that could not be repeated,” she said.

The city will be using VIPRE, a leading provider of internet security solutions designed to protect businesses, solution providers and home users from costly and malicious cyber threats, according to VIPRE’s website.

Parkinson said she estimates the service will cost the city about $5,000 for the first year it is used. The price will vary depending on how many emails are in the city’s system.

Councilman Chad Quayle, who works at the Information Technology Department for Fremont County, said that is a good price for this type of service.

Quayle told the council that he learned from the Idaho Cybersecurity Interdependencies Summit that most agencies end up paying ransom to hackers at some point, and ransomware will stay undetected for months so it can target backup systems also.

“It’s really more important to prevent it from getting in to begin with. That’s where advanced protection for email servers come in,” Quayle said. “I’d say it’s pretty important.”