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How Huber Heights is faring two months after a ransomware attack

The Huber Heights Government Center, pictured here on Oct. 2, 2022, is home to city hall Huber Heights police and the eastern division of Montgomery County Municipal Court.
Jordan Laird
The Huber Heights Government Center, pictured here on Oct. 2, 2022, is home to city hall Huber Heights police and the eastern division of Montgomery County Municipal Court.

The city of Huber Heights sustained a ransomware attack and data breach that shut down the city’s operations at the end of last year. It has now been determined that the personal data of more than 5,700 residents was compromised.

WYSO's Jerry Kenney spoke with City Manager Richard Dzik to get an update on how the city is recovering. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Richard Dzik: We are really reaching the end of the recovery process and so we are excited for that. I think it's gone about as well as we could have expected it to. Ideally it would have never happened, but since it did, we were able to recover pretty quickly. Within two to three weeks, we were back to relatively normal operation. Public safety was never impacted significantly, they were able to operate normally.

But the news that has come up recently is that we finally, after three months, did get the forensic report back on what data was taken. We basically were made aware that about a 198-gigabyte file was on the dark web. We were able to obtain that, provide it to a data mining company so that they could determine whose information was taken, if anybody's. We found out last Friday, 5,738 people had data taken of some kind. But a lot of those were just names and addresses, which usually isn't a big deal. So, 3,000 people will require just a notification. And then another 2,038 people will require actual credit monitoring because something more serious, like a Social Security number, was taken. 

Jerry Kenney: This is pretty costly for a city, correct? I think you've got some help coming from Montgomery County commissioners. How did that happen?

Dzik: I met with (County Administrator) Michael Colbert a couple weeks into this process. He asked how the commissioners could help. I told him that we had to buy a lot of devices, almost 30 laptops, to get us back up and running. And a few other pieces of equipment. So the commissioners generously agreed to pay for all those devices we were using, and they won't go to waste. In a lot of cases, they're being deployed. For instance, we're replacing all the devices at our water plant with the devices that we were using temporarily. We probably are going to have some set aside in case anybody ever needs them in the future. And then some departments are keeping them to expand their usefulness. So, we really appreciate what the commissioners have done. It's going to go a long way to kind of offsetting some of those costs. These devices were really big in the first week in terms of getting the city back up and running.

Kenney: And obviously, you have insurance for some of this at least. Tell me how that's going to work.

Dzik: The insurance company pays for all those resources they have engaged. And then we are currently in the process of going through some costs that we had for the initial response and recovery that they should provide us repayment on. But from there they also will handle all the costs for the notification and credit monitoring. Our policy actually allows us up to 100,000 people impacted, but obviously we are well below that, so that will be fully covered by insurance.

So there will be a large chunk the city does still have to take on itself. We are replacing the entire network infrastructure. I don't believe insurance is going to cover that for us. And then this year, we are really doing a lot of things to secure the network even further, make sure that if anything happens again, it gets isolated to one department or one building. And then we also are going to have 24-7 cybersecurity monitoring. So somebody will be watching our network day and night.

Kenney: When all this went down, you had to mobilize the entire city staff to work a little bit differently. Correct?

Dzik: City staff was terrific throughout. The first couple days there really wasn't much we could do. So we had staff meetings regularly. The consensus was that we were going to focus on things that had maybe been sitting on the back burner but didn't require a computer. So I would say the first few days, all of our filing systems got caught up. That was a lot of what was going on in our income tax office and even downstairs in our finance department and things like that. The other priority, and this is where the staff really excelled, was just providing the best customer service they could. Obviously it's a trying time. A lot of people probably hadn't heard about it. We're trying to do business with the city. And so kind of taking the time to explain to people what was going on. And when we thought that they could start doing business again.

Kenney: I know as a media outlet covering the data breach, we were very appreciative of the information coming from the city through the press conferences and the especially the daily updates on the website.

Dzik: Yes. So I actually give the mayor full credit for that. As we were having some of our initial executive session and planning meetings, he made the comment that we should do daily updates. And so obviously that's a great idea. I think it kept everybody informed. So we really got the impression that the citizens were being very patient with us. And I think that's a big, big part of the reason why.

Kenney: Richard Dzik is city manager for Huber Heights. Richard, thanks so much for your time and the update on all of this.

Richard Dzik: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.