Ransomware attack against Okeechobee foiled

OKEECHOBEE — At the Nov. 5 meeting of the Okeechobee City Council, one of the main topics was the fact that a ransomware attack was attempted against the City of Okeechobee last week, but was caught so quickly that the city lost nothing but maybe a day’s worth of work, said City Manager Marcos Montes de Oca.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Pictured left to right are council member Bobby Keefe, Jim Clark, council member Monica Clark, Mayor Dowling Watford, council member Wes Abney and council member Bob Jarriel.

“We did everything right. We don’t feel any of our data was mined. It was a ransomware bug.” The way ransomware works is it locks your computer until you pay whoever they are, and they caught it before it got to that point, he explained. Several cities around the area have been attacked and paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their systems up and running again. Fort Pierce had to pay almost $950,000. The City of Stuart’s server was ransomwared, said Okeechobee Councilwoman Monica Clark, and they chose not to pay the ransom. They lost years and years of data from police department investigations.

Mr. Montes de Oca said Okeechobee backs up its data every night. The attack happened on Wednesday morning, and they were able to use Tuesday’s backup after it was declared clear. They followed the textbook on what to do during an attack, he said. Within half an hour, it was taken care of. “I just want to applaud the way staff handled it,” he said.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Sue Christopher is presented a 20-year service award as administrative secretary to Fire Chief Herb Smith. Pictured Left to right are Chief Smith, Ms. Christopher and Mayor Dowling Watford.

They have decided to hire Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith LLP to do a digital forensic analysis even though they are 99.99% sure no data was compromised. This analysis will give them even more assurance.

In other business, Melissa Henry, from the city finance department, was presented a five-year service award by Finance Director India Riedel. “I’m very proud of her. She is always striving to do better for herself and for the city. I commend her for her years of service,” said Ms. Riedel.

“I look forward to many more years with the city,” said Ms. Henry. One of her favorite quotes is, “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” She said, “I’m happy to say I love my job.”

City Fire Chief Herb Smith presented a 20-year service award to administrative secretary Sue Christopher. She has been through two chiefs, and they were as different as night and day, said Chief Smith, “with the number one difference being that Chief Tomey has a nice head of hair,” he laughed. She did a great job adjusting to the differences and he said he managed to bring her over to the dark side.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Chief Finance Officer India Riedel presents Melissa Henry a five-year service award. Pictured left to right are Ms. Riedel, Ms. Henry and Mayor Watford.

Ms. Christopher said she really appreciated the opportunity to work with people who really care about each other. “We’re not just employees or co-workers. We are a team working together with one common goal, and that goal, as we all know, is to make our city the best that it can be.”

Councilwoman Clark and her family were honored on the 90th birthday of Glades Gas Co. Ms. Clark shared some of her family’s history with the council and everyone in attendance. She ended by saying she believed her dad and grandfather probably look down on Okeechobee and say, “Wow! Okeechobee, look how far you’ve come.”

And finally, the joint workshop with the Okeechobee County Commissioners to discuss consolidation of the two fire departments was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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