A cyberattack that is suspected of originating from Russia led to a precautionary shutdown of the computer network for St. James Parish government, the parish sheriff and other local offices that could be lifted as soon as Friday.
The attack was discovered 3 p.m. Sunday, prompting investigators from Louisiana State Police and a special cyber task force under the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to try to halt the attempted hack, parish officials said Wednesday.
Parish President Timmy Roussel said the attack was similar to the so-called phishing scheme that hackers used to lock down computers and hold data within the Tangipahoa Parish School Board ransom in late July, though he could not say if the same hackers were responsible for the St. James attack.
But he said state task force officials informed him and other parish officials the cyberattack is suspected of originating in Russia.
Even before the Tangipahoa attack in late July, earlier cyber incursions into three public school systems in north Louisiana prompted Gov. John Bel Edwards to declare an emergency.
Attacks into the Monroe city and Sabine and Morehouse parish public schools were described by state officials at the time as "severe, intentional cybersecurity breaches."
Roussel said state investigators directed parish officials to shut down their network immediately to prevent the cyberattack from spreading. He said officials with the state task force are still working on the parish network, which possibly could be back up by Friday.
"So far, they don’t think we lost anything, but we're not sure. They're still doing some more diagnostics," he said Wednesday night.
He said the network shutdown affected computers in all offices on both sides of the Mississippi River for the sheriff, parish government, assessor and clerk of court, which share the same system. Cellphones and email were not affected.
Officials in the Clerk of Court's office and parish government said the shutdown affected landlines for time also.
Roussel said parish government's 290 full-time employees continued operations; nevertheless, parish officials in a statement asked residents for their patience.
"We regret any inconvenience that this disruption may cause to Saint James residents," the statement says. "We thank you for your patience during this time, as we have been working tirelessly to address this matter since we first became aware of it."
After the Tangipahoa and north Louisiana attacks were discovered, another popped up in at least one school in New Orleans. Several public school systems that didn't detect attacks, including those in Lafayette, St. Charles and Jefferson parishes, conducted precautionary system shutdowns to take security steps mandated by the state at the time.
Tangipahoa school officials also enacted system shutdowns after the attack was discovered.
Roussel added the attack in St. James did not affect voter rolls in the parish Registrar of Voters office or the parish library's computers, which are both on state networks.