Suffolk cyberattack: County consultant also lobbies for vendor hired to fortify system

Mark Harrington and Sandra Peddie report:

A consulting firm hired to help manage Suffolk County’s response to a ransomware attack also has served as a lobbyist for the computer security company brought in more than three years ago to analyze and fortify Suffolk’s networks, according to a Newsday analysis of records.

Computer security experts and a government watchdog group said consulting firm RedLand Strategies and founder Michael Balboni’s roles as state lobbyist for the company — and consultant to Suffolk County — could present potential conflicts of interest in the cleanup of the Sept. 8 cyberattack.

Separately, computer experts raised concerns that Palo Alto Networks, the company that provided the front-line firewall of Suffolk’s defense against cyberattacks, is acting as the primary forensic auditor to analyze what happened when the county’s system was breached.

RedLand and Palo Alto, both responsible for helping safeguard Suffolk’s computer system since 2019, recently were awarded new contracts to manage the county’s response to the attack, determine how the breach occurred and to help fix it.

Read more at Newsday.

Comment: The situation does seem to raise concerns about possible conflicts of interest. One might fear that a firm that had been responsible for cybersecurity might try to downplay, or worse, cover up, any failures on their part that allowed the ALPHV threat actors to successfully attack the county, or that they might be motivated to downplay any mistakes by the county that had given them a lucrative contract. Palo Alto Networks is an established firm with a good reputation, but even the appearance of any possible conflict of interest is not a good look for the county right now.

Update of Nov. 1:  Newsday now reports that Suffolk will end its contract with the consulting firm, RedLand Strategies. The county also revealed that it has spent $2 million on its forensic investigation of the cyberattack, and $2.8 million on recovery costs. Next year, its budget will for cybersecurity will increase to include multifactor authentication costs and hiring a chief information security officer. Both of those are requirements for the county to obtain cyberinsurance that it did not have prior to the attack by ALPHV cybercriminals.

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