Kitchener-Waterloo

City of Stratford managing apparent cyberattack on its systems

The City of Stratford says no personal information was accessed in a cyberattack that affected email, online forms and the city's phone system.

Phone system, online forms also down Monday morning

City officials in Stratford say they've followed appropriate risk management plans after learning of the cyberattack. On Monday, staff said no personal information had been compromised. (Google StreetView)

The City of Stratford says no personal information was accessed in an apparent cyberattack that affected email, online forms and possibly the city's phone system.

On Sunday, the city published on its website and social media that it was "currently managing what appears to be a cyberattack." 

The attack affected the city's email system and online forms and the city said "resources have been deployed to address this and appropriate risk management plans are being followed."

At 11:05 a.m. on Monday, the city said after investigating it was able to determine no personal information had been compromised from municipal systems. More updates are expected later on Monday. 

At the same time, the city's switchboard operator told CBC News that the city's phone system, including individual extensions, was also malfunctioning. Calls went straight to voicemail, which people were unable to access. 

Instead, the operator said notes were being taken by hand and run to the appropriate office as calls came in. She was unable to say for certain if the phone system outage was connected to the suspected cyberattack.

Shutdowns may be preventative: expert

Cyber security expert Alexandar Essex told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, it's hard to gauge exactly what the city is dealing with, without more information.

"However, when I hear about a great number of subsystems going down at the same time, it seems less likely that it would be some kind of uber-cyberattack and more likely that they are preventatively shutting down those subsystems to protect themselves," said Essex, who runs the Whisper Lab at Western University in London, a small research group with a specialized focus on cyber security. 

Municipalities are an appealing target for cyberattackers for the sheer quantities of data they have access to, said Essex. 

For example, he said, confidential emails between city councilors "might illuminate what they're thinking and what they're plans are on proposed legislation, bylaws and so forth."

But, he said, there are many possible motives for a cyber attack on a place like the City of Stratford.

"Cities deal with a lot of very high-valued land contracts. That could be one possibility," said Essex.

"Sometimes ransomware software is worming its way through the internet and it hacks what it can attack and sometimes it gets lucky."

In 2018, the City of Cambridge was the target of a cryptojacking attack, where hackers used a plug-in to run a cryptocurrency mine. 

The Cambridge website was one of more than 200 affected in Canada.

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