A recent ransomware attack on Rockford Public Schools has brought the issue of cyber security to the forefront.

Considering the local district’s recent breach, Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney (R) wanted to update board members on the topic. The county’s Department of Information Technology Chief Information Officer Gus Gentner spoke at last Thursday’s board meeting.

“You only hear about it when there’s a major issue,” said Haney. “Its something that our IT departments across all of our public entities are dealing with and are worried about on an ongoing basis.”

If attacked, agencies or businesses can be crippled if the problem isn’t addressed quickly.

“Statistics let us know that the average ransomware incident costs $8.1 million and 287 days to recover,” said Gentner.

Gentner says it used to be harder for hackers but times have changed.

“It’s become commercialized,” said Gentner. “So, non-technical individuals can go out in the clear web or the dark web and find apparatus that would allow them to hack into a network.”

The IT department has a layered approach to protect county computers. It’s a combination of firewalls, spam filters, zero day threat protection. Experts recommend using different passwords for each account and using password managers.

“When those passwords and usernames get stolen, people can then try and use those passwords on other sites you may have used the same passwords for,” said Deputy Chief Information Officer Dan Magers. “Then, they’ll be able to get in multiple of your accounts.”

Winnebago County’s spam filter knocks out 77% of junk emails, but IT county officials say humans are the best firewall against phishing.

“We’re letting folks know, even more than normal, watch out for your emails,” said Magers. “If you’re not expecting it, don’t click on it, delete it.”

Gentner says in the last two years, there have been nearly 400 breaches in local governments nationwide. Winnebago County has disaster recovery plan on file in case of emergency and it is updated as needed.