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Dallas City Council approves millions more for cybersecurity as county grapples with ongoing attack

Dallas city council members during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, at Dallas City Hall.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
The council has approved more funds for cybersecurity after an early May ransomware attack disrupted city servers. The vote comes as Dallas County officials are investigating a similar attack.

The Dallas City Council silently approved millions for additional cybersecurity resources during Wednesday’s meeting. The vote comes while Dallas County officials deal with a separate cyber breach that may have compromised sensitive information more recently.

The council greenlit just over $2.1 million for hardware, software and support for a security monitoring and response system for the city’s Information and Technology department. And around $510,000 will be used to pay for “cloud-based” security services from the consulting group Netsync.

Late last month, Dallas County officials launched an investigation into what they call a “cybersecurity incident.” But they say the initial attack had happened nearly a week earlier.

"As the investigation is still ongoing, we do not want to make premature assumptions about the extent of impact or other details, which may evolve as the forensic investigation advances," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the October statement.

County officials say after discovering the possible security breach, they “retained external cybersecurity professionals to assist in our efforts to contain the threat.”

A hacker group called Play claimed responsibility for the attack. In a screenshot of a supposed dark web blog post uploaded to X — formerly Twitter — a message from the group claims it has already leaked documents. The group warned that more could be released if there’s “no reaction.”

Now, they are trying to figure out if sensitive information had been potentially leaked to the dark web — a reoccurring theme for attacks against Dallas-area municipal governments.

A November 7 update from county officials says the investigation is ongoing.

“…We continue to work closely with law enforcement and our cybersecurity experts to address this situation. As the investigation progresses, when our review determines personal information has been involved, we will notify the affected individuals directly,” the statement said.

The county’s security issues come on the heels of a similar attack aimed at Dallas City Hall. And Wednesday’s city council allocations are only the most recent that have been approved.

The increased IT budget comes after an early May ransomware attack disrupted city services for weeks — and compromised the personal information of over 26,000 Dallas city employees.

The hacker group responsible for the attack, Royal, threatened to leak sensitive information. It was months before city officials notified the public about the possible threat. And it was a few weeks after that officials revealed they had known about the compromised information.

After the attack, city council approved a $3.9 million cybersecurity contract for “support of a threat and anomaly detection system” for the city’s IT department.

And then council members approved more than $8 million to start paying “invoices due to various vendors” in response to the cyberattack.

City officials say local governments are a “logical choice” for ransomware attacks.

“Unfortunately, I think we along with all other governmental entities will continue to be a target of these kinds of attacks,” Chief Information Officer Bill Zielinski said during a late September briefing about the attack.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.