Email communication from Madison County has been spotty recently. We can thank an aging server failure and a possible cyber-attack for the issue. PHOTO BY JOLENE PALMER

Communication breakdown

Server failure and possible cyber-attack causing Madison County email issues

Rest assured – if you’ve attempted to contact county officials and employees over the past two weeks but haven’t received a response, they are not ignoring you.

According to Madison County IT Director Brett Schriock, the county’s IT system was hit with “the perfect storm” recently. Following a server outage on Feb. 12 the current issue began with a hard drive failing on Feb. 22. The system has backup and was brought back online Feb. 25, but it went down again on the 27th. Since then, email communications have been on hold to and from the county.

Schriock said he’s been working to get the backup server up and running as quickly and safely as possible. But he’s also dealing with a potentially bigger issue – when the system was brought back online at the end of February, there is a chance it was breached by cyber terrorists via previously unknown security vulnerabilities, known as a Microsoft Exchange Server zero-day attack.

According a March 8 article on the business technology website ZDNet, it’s estimated that 30,000 servers in the United States have been hit by the attack. Schriock said he’s now dealing with a “double-whammy” – hardware failure, combined with implementing system patches to deal with the possible security breach. He said won’t officially know whether a cyber-attack is the culprit for Madison County’s issues until things are functioning again.

Since the server went down Schriock has been searching for specialists who can get the county email system running. On March 8 he was on his third specialist, and finally reached a specialized exchange server technician who can assist. The technician will begin work Thursday, March 11 and expects to spend 10-12 hours establishing a new exchange server, mounting recovery data, and restoring exchange servers – mailbox by mailbox.

Schriock stressed that the problems are limited to emails, and that the public should not worry about any data being lost or breached due to the potential cyber-attack, since a system is in place to keep the county protected from any data being stolen.

County departments are doing what they can to get by in the meantime.

Madison County Sheriff ’s Office Administrative Assistant Kathleen Barnes often receives email requests for incident reports. Her last email was received on Feb. 26. Since then, she’s relied on folks calling her after an email is kicked back, with response stating, “Message blocked,” but she worries not everyone is receiving that notification. “We’re kind of in limbo at this point,” she said.

Each week Barnes sends The Madisonian the dispatch report, but lately she’s had to convey that information via photo texts, which due to unrelated cellphone issues did not get through in time for the Feb. 25 publication.

To keep communication flowing in her office, Madison County Clerk and Recorder Paula McKenzie said she’s using her personal email and her team has reached out to title companies to let them know of the situation. She said her office is fortunate they can still e-record, and that the public can continue to use online platforms to gather information.

Despite making the best of the situation, McKenzie is very much anticipating having email back, “Because you don’t really realize how much you rely on it until it’s gone,” she said, recalling times when email didn’t even exist. “You really do quickly get used to something as easy as email.”

Schriock thanks his colleagues and the community for their continuing patience as he works through this issue.

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