Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison talks Monday about the cyberattack...

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison talks Monday about the cyberattack probe. Credit: James Carbone

It increasingly seems that companies and governments must look at cyberattacks and their disastrous effects much as power utilities look at big storms and infuriating outages.

In each case, the systems have to be hardened as much as possible. In each case, the storms are coming, and sometimes will cause the systems to fail no matter how strong the protections. In each case, customers are often angered. And in each case, how well and quickly the operators can get the systems back up and running again is what they’ll most be judged on.

Two weeks ago, Suffolk County started taking down its websites in response to a detected cyber intrusion. Since then, county officials and workers have struggled to keep Suffolk’s core services running, keep employees and vendors paid, and keep channels of communication open, even as the technology they normally rely on remained unavailable.

It’s become increasingly clear that the attack is a coordinated, professional one, almost certainly intended to extract ransom via the threat that if money is not paid, sensitive data will be released and computer systems could be destroyed.

Residents are wondering how the county could have let this happen. And the answer is: the same way DoorDash, Uber, Microsoft, Snapchat, American Express, Finland’s parliament, and the New Hampshire state lottery did . . . in the past six weeks alone.

Because every system is vulnerable.

That’s not to say Suffolk County’s prevention techniques and recovery preparation are perfect. It does not always use multi-factor authentication, nor does it have all its data in “the cloud”; some is still stored in on-site servers. Employees, though regularly trained in security, sometimes still visit non-secured sites on county equipment and fall victim to “phishing” scams that can import devastating code into county systems.

But state officials and experts helping Suffolk respond say the county’s preparedness, and its ability to detect intrusions, eradicate threats, and restore its systems is better than most such government entities, and that the county has not fallen down on the job.

They also say more can be done to close security gaps, starting with taking the partially separate systems controlled by five elected officials running their own shows and putting them on one network, behind one firewall, where one security team has full visibility of the system and the incoming attacks it faces.

And just as with a storm, it is residents who are partly at risk, whose data is compromised, and who must take precautions. Experts say it’s wise now for Suffolk residents to change out old passwords for new, more secure ones. Everyone should also be using multi-factor authentication on any application that allows it, and considering avoiding those that don’t. And a wary eye must be frequently trained on all bank and credit card accounts.

Because the storm is coming, and sometimes the hardening is going to fail.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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