Sheriff’s website down due to hacking

Published 12:02 am Monday, August 8, 2011

NATCHEZ — Approximately a week after the Adams County Sheriff’s Office launched its new website July 21, Sheriff Chuck Mayfield discovered from the Arkansas-based website host company that similar law enforcement sites the company hosts had been recently infiltrated by international hackers.

Credit card numbers and e-mails stolen by the group known as Anonymous mainly came from sheriffs’ offices in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi.

The loosely-knit hacking collective said Saturday that it attacked 70 mostly rural law enforcement websites in the United States in retaliation for the arrests of its sympathizers.

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Mayfield said he learned of an Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the hacking scheme when his office contacted the Mountain Home, Ark.-based media hosting company, Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing, to question why his office was having trouble updating its site.

Mayfield said the company told him about the hacking incident. His office could not update the site because the company temporarily froze or shut down many or all of the sites it hosts in order to enhance safety features, such as firewall protections against hackers.

If Brooks-Jeffrey’s defenses were breached, that would give hackers access to every website the company hosted, said Kevin Mitnick, a security consultant and former hacker.

Mayfield said he was not sure if the Adams County Sheriff’s Office site was hacked. If it were breached, Mayfield said, hackers would not have attained any sensitive information.

“I don’t know if we were (hacked) personally. But luckily, if we were, we had just (launched) the website, so nothing on there would’ve been sensitive,” Mayfield said.

The site was down at times last week, including Saturday, but Mayfield said he noticed no changes to the site other than the inability to update it.

The sheriff’s office site mostly contained a profile of the department, pictures of deputies and two press releases about recent crimes.

“There was no personal information (on the site),” Mayfield said.

In addition, Mayfield said no e-mails had been sent through the site when the hacking incident occurred because it was so new.

Many of the leaked e-mails from other sheriffs’ offices appeared to be benign, but some of the stolen material seen by the Associated Press carried sensitive information, including tips about suspected crimes, profiles of gang members and security training.

Mayfield said his office will not disseminate sensitive or personal information through the website.

The Jefferson County sheriff’s site was also down. Sheriff Peter E. Walker said he had no knowledge about any hacking.

“As soon as we’re back up and rolling on Monday, if something happened we’ll be aware of it,” he said.

Web security experts said the cyberattack shows that no website is too small to avoid hacking, especially as more law enforcement agencies upload information about investigations, inmates and officers to their sites.

“It seems to me to be low-hanging fruit,” said Dick Mackey, vice president of consulting at Sudbury, Mass.-based SystemExperts. “The smaller the organization, the more likely that they don’t think of themselves as potential targets. They’re not going to have the protections in place that a larger organization will have.”

In a statement, Anonymous said it leaked “a massive amount of confidential information that is sure to (embarrass), discredit and incriminate police officers across the U.S.”

The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has paid $10,865.75 to Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing this year for the creation of its site, www.AdamsCoSheriff.org

The AP contributed to this story.