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Martin C. Barry

A major disruption of public access to the City of Laval’s online computer services was expected to be resolved by last Sunday evening, although an assessment of the damage done will be ongoing over the next few days.

Late last week, the city was asking residents who normally rely on web access to use the 3-1-1 telephone information option, or go to one of the city’s in-person service counters.

Damage ‘limited,’ said Boyer

According to city spokespersons, technical teams got to work immediately trying to resolve the problem and hoped to have it fixed by early Monday morning when Laval city hall re-opened.

Mayor Stéphane Boyer told journalists during a hastily-convened press conference last Thursday that it was believed a “limited” quantity of information was stolen from the city’s systems during the attack, although what exactly was taken remained unknown.

The city’s IT experts became aware something wasn’t right around 4 pm on Wednesday last week. As a precaution against the possibility hackers were at work, they immediately disconnected access to part of the incoming and outgoing internet services.

From the left, City of Laval director-general Jacques Ulysse, Mayor Stéphane Boyer and technology director Guy Germain speak to journalists about the digital services disruption during a webcast press conference last Friday.

Said personal info safe

According to Mayor Boyer, the hackers probably broke into the city’s computer systems through an infected e-mail that may have been mistakenly opened by an employee. At the same time, he gave his assurances that the personal information of residents wasn’t compromised.

Initially, it is thought that the data taken probably consisted of some photo files or a considerably larger number of files containing text – around 600 megabytes worth, which is considered to be a small amount of data. The City of Laval’s in-house IT staff was being assisted by experts at global software maker Microsoft.

Worst didn’t happen: Boyer

“We believe we prevented the worst from happening, preventing the hackers from doing more when we stopped them,” said Boyer, adding that it was expected to take several days for a more thorough analysis to reveal the full extent of damage.

“But for the moment, indicators suggest the outlook is positive, meaning that our databases don’t seem to have been affected and seem to be okay,” he continued. “So, it would seem we acted quickly enough to avoid the worst.”

In the meantime, some of the major fallout from the IT services shutdown was being felt by the city administration itself, which was unable to process online payments. And, among other things, access to the city’s online property valuation roll was also temporarily shut down late last week.

Payment systems impacted

“I can tell you that, despite the inconveniences caused by the situation, that today most of the city’s services have been cleared to our great satisfaction,” said city manager Jacques Ulysse. He said IT systems at the police, fire and public works departments, as well as at the public library, were all up and functioning.

However, he acknowledged that the city’s payment systems were still a source of trouble, and for that reason access to them was shut last week. As a result, transactions were being completed manually, or were postponed to a later date.

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