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Hall County departments still suffering from ransomware attack. Here's what's working and what's not

Hall County email access was restored as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Assistant County Administrator Zach Propes, following a ransomware attack on the county's networks found Wednesday, Oct. 7.

County government phone lines meanwhile were restored Monday afternoon. The county had established phone lines by Friday for citizen questions and made a phone directory available on the county website.

Assistant County Administrator Zach Propes declined to comment on the investigation of the ransomware attack and measures taken to address it.

Emergency services

Hall County’s 911 operations were not affected. 

Casey Ramsey, the director of the Hall County Emergency Management Agency, said the 911 center on Wednesday implemented its backup plan, which they test annually. 

“Just as if we were to lose power, we have equipment that we can use like during any disaster to keep us connected so that we can still communicate to our employees and to the citizens,” Ramsey said. 

One example of vendors outside the network was Citizen Alert, which often sends messages on severe weather or other emergencies. 

Ramsey said they have started using that in lieu of email to communicate with employees. 

Hall County Fire Services division chief Zach Brackett said their reporting software is cloud-based, so the department was still able to run and document calls appropriately for both EMS and fire calls. 

“It’s been more of an inconvenience than anything,” said Brackett, as it has become difficult to communicate with the more than 300 members of the department at once.  

Law enforcement

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office’s Sheriff to Citizen portal, which shows local crime reports and the online jail database, was still down a week after the attack. 

The Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday, Oct. 14, it has not been given an estimated time of when that portal will come back online, and there is no way for people to view the inmate list online. 

The Sheriff to Citizen portal is used by residents looking at crimes reported in their area, people reporting crimes that don’t necessitate an officer responding to the scene, media outlets and others. 

The Sheriff’s Office did not have any metrics on how many people use the website. 

Code enforcement and permitting

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the Hall County Marshal’s Office, which handles issues such as building without a permit, litter and outdoor storage and junk, was unable to take email complaints but was available over the phone. Marshals are still able to respond to complaints received over the phone, she said. 

Meanwhile, Crumley said the county is still unable to issue new business licenses or building permits due to the service outages. Building inspectors, however, can go out in the field. 

Solid waste

The Hall County Landfill's network access was back Tuesday, Propes said. The landfill's payment collection system and the software that calculates tonnage had been down when computers were not working there, he said. Services had been slowed down when they were done manually.

Tax commissioner

Hall County Tax Commissioner's Office services, including motor vehicle and property tax services and the office's call center were restored Monday. The lobby had been closed Thursday and Friday, according to a social media post from the office. The office first announced its lobby closure on Thursday. The vehicle tag renewal kiosks at the Kroger stores on Spout Springs Road and Jesse Jewell Parkway can still process renewals and Hall residents can renew their vehicle tags online through the state website

Court services

Court administrator Jason Stephenson said most court functions were able to proceed as normal due to a secondary system, though communication was an early issue. 

“We’ve switched all of our devices here to a second fiber internet line that doesn’t go through the county’s network, so all of our virtual hearings still went forward,” he said. “The phones being down caused a lot of the issues initially, because nobody knew how to get in touch with us.” 

The court upgraded to a fiber line in June in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many of the hearings to go virtual. 

The numbers for court contacts can be found here

Access to records on the Comprehensive Justice Information System, however, is still not available. 

“I think we’ve finished (inspecting) all of our servers and verified the attack didn’t reach us, so the court servers are all clean,” Stephenson said.