Edmonton

Hacker targets remote northern Alberta communities

A northern Alberta municipality is in emergency mode after a suspected computer hacking. Administrative staff of the Municipal District of the Opportunity No. 17 say they first became aware of 'suspicious activity' in July.

Administration concerned all its files accessed for Municipal District of the Opportunity No. 17

The Municipal District of the Opportunity No. 17 is concerned all its files were accessed by a recent computer hack. (The Associated Press)

A northern Alberta municipality is in emergency mode after a suspected computer hack.

The Municipal District of the Opportunity No. 17 is concerned all its files were accessed, including personal and financial information, according to a public notice released by the municipality.

Administrative staff say they first became aware of "suspicious activity" in July. Last Friday, the activity escalated. 

"We just unplugged everything and cut ourselves off from the outside world," said Deborah Juch, the municipality's manager of legislative services.

About 3,400 people live in its seven hamlets, about 400 km north of Edmonton. Many residents log personal information with the municipality, such as social insurance numbers, credit card numbers and payroll bank deposit card numbers.
About 3,400 people live in the Municipal District of Opportunity No. 17 in northern Alberta. (Google Maps)

Juch cited money as the most likely motive for hackers. 

"We're working in emergency mode," she said. "The northern municipalities have a large amount of tax dollars coming and going through their accounts."

The district's sole information technology veteran worked a 22-hour shift to protect the municipality's servers and network. But someone continued to undo his efforts, Juch said.

"We were not going to be able to stop whatever was trying to get in the door," she said. "We ordered an unplug."

The municipality has reported the problem to the RCMP, and has now flown in what Juch described as a team of "high-power IT people" to work on the server.

She said the network should be restored within two weeks, at which point the municipality will know how much information has been accessed.