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Pensacola Fighting Cyber Battle

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Tripwire
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The city of Pensacola is under siege in cyberspace. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports the attack began over the weekend.

“That is impacting our city network, including phones and email at City Hall and some of our buildings,” said Mayor Grover Robinson. “The public may not be able to contact some city staff, until these issues are resolved. We ask for your patience as IT works diligently to restore all services.”

In his weekly news conference, Robinson said almost all computer-driven communication systems at City Hall were affected, as of 1:45 Saturday morning. And the siege continues.

“Online billing payments for Pensacola Energy and City op Pensacola sanitation services are currently unavailable; permitting is able to issue permits but they will not be able to collect payments until the issue is resolved,” said the Mayor. “And they’ll only be able to issue permits at City Hall. They won’t be able to do it digitally; they will have to be in handwriting at this particular time.”

Robinson says they’ve contacted the feds about some of the issues falling into their purview. He does not know if the cyberattack is related to Friday’s mass shooting aboard NAS Pensacola. But he’s quick to add that public safety – fire and police, along with Pensacola International Airport -- have not been compromised.

“Nine-one-one and emergency dispatch operators are not impacted,” emphasized the Mayor. “We severed things immediately as soon as we found out we were having this problem with our public safety. So they’re up and running with no problems.”

Pensacola is unique, says Robinson, in that a host of agencies that offer help with cybersecurity are nearby and accessible for local governments.

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Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.

“The FBI, [Department of Defense], Homeland Security – all in the same location,” the Mayor said. “UWF certainly trains people in this area and is kind of at the forefront in dealing with cybersecurity. We are working right now with some of those agencies to try to help us figure out what happened, and where do we go from here.”

There’s no word yet on whether personal data are involved. And Robinson reminds everyone that Pensacola is not the only city in Florida that’s on the cyber battlefield.

“It’s one of the things when we were in Washington back in October we discussed cybersecurity issues,” said Robinson. “It’s unfortunate; it’s going to make it inconvenient for a lot of our users for the next week interacting with the city. But we ask that you just give us some time, and we’ll continue to keep working on it and get this thing back up and running.”

Robinson declined comment on whether Pensacola had received a ransom demand. According to the Pensacola News Journal, two Florida cities paid ransoms earlier this year to call off the hackers. Lake City paid $426,000, while Riviera Beach shelled out $600 thousand.

For now, Mayor Grover Robinson says the city is approaching the cyber hack in two different directions.

“From a legal standpoint and trying to work forensically; that way [to] figure out who this was,” said Robinson. “And two, putting our system back together. These are things that we were kind of looking at a little bit. We been sort of looking to reevaluate our entire IT system, so we’ll keep doing that.”

Also during Monday’s presser, the Mayor read a statement from the Islamic Center of Northwest Florida, regarding Friday’s attack aboard NAS Pensacola.

“The Muslim community of Pensacola was deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday morning,” the Mayor read. “We stand alongside our fellow Floridians in mourning, and pray for all those affected by these irrational acts of violence against the naval bases here and in Hawaii.”

The statement concludes: “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families; may God grant you peace and ease in your hardship and suffering.”

“There are Muslims who are Americans here, and they’re just as much touched and hurt by this,” said Robinson. “Certainly, there were [Muslim] individuals who were killed in this as well. There are Muslims here in the United States that are Americans that are absolutely supportive and in the fight with us altogether.”

The cyberattack on Pensacola comes in the wake of cyberattacks on other U.S. cities and government entities over the past year -- including Baltimore and Atlanta; about two dozen small Texas towns and on multiple state agencies in Louisiana.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.