‘Unauthorized access’ blamed for cyber-crisis that’s crippled city computers

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 10:24 AM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 2:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Mayor Garnett Johnson on Tuesday blamed “unauthorized access to our system” for problems that have brought the city’s computer network to a standstill.

That’s ironic, since Augusta is one of the nation’s key hubs for cybersecurity.

Johnson said the city has been a victim of unauthorized access in certain computer systems, and leaders say they are working to restore the systems as soon as possible.

They’re also actively investigating whether sensitive data was taken. So far, indications are it has not been.

City officials haven’t disclosed which systems are affected and which are not, but signs are posted outside various offices telling the public that services are limited due to the outage. Even the legally required notice of Tuesday’s meeting had to be faxed and texted to media outlets instead of being posted through the usual means.

Although portions of the jail booking database are apparently affected, Johnson said public safety agencies are able to respond to emergencies as needed.

“Our public safety department, as well as our Fire Department, continue to operate and respond as needed,” said Johnson.

Gary Coker with Central Emergency Medical Service, Augusta’s ambulance operator, says the cyber issues have interfered with sharing of electronic records back and forth with via computer with the E911 center. But he said crews are overcoming the issue through a “manual” system. They still communicate back and forth by radio and no one’s safety has been in danger, Coker says.


The latest computer problems were discovered Sunday and are blamed on the unauthorized access, the mayor said.

Johnson said this outage is unrelated to one last week that knocked out systems for about 24 hours.

Perhaps due to the back-to-back problems, officials called a special emergency meeting Tuesday morning to deal with the problem.

While the scope is unclear, the city says it’s been a widespread issue since last week, hitting their system hard enough that Tuesday’s special meeting votes was taken via roll call.

The meeting between city administrators and some members of the Augusta Commission began at 10 a.m., then immediately went into a closed-door executive session. Officials didn’t emerge until just before noon.

Mayor Garnett Johnson and other city leaders hold a brief news conference on May 23, 2023.
Mayor Garnett Johnson and other city leaders hold a brief news conference on May 23, 2023.(WRDW/WAGT)

With the latest outage, city officials said staff members are trying to find workarounds.

“Our information technology department is working diligently to investigate the incident, to confirm its impact on our systems and to restore full functionality to our systems as soon as possible,” said Johnson.

Whether by design or coincidence, the Augusta Commission last week approved the purchase of new computer equipment.

The motion called for replacement of obsolete computer equipment (laptops, computers, servers, printers, scanners, switches, routers, VOIP phones, virtual environment, backup solutions, analog gateways, other telecommunication devices, security appliances, uninterrupted power supplies, radios, and MDTs) as well as the purchase of any related required computer software upgrades, cloud storage and server resources.

The approximate estimated total cost for items scheduled to be replaced, upgraded or purchased in 2023 is $655,000. Funds are included in the 2023 information technology budgets as well as SPLOST 8.

No timeline has been given by the City of Augusta or Central EMS on when they’ll resolve this cyber hiccup, but public safety departments continue to say that this doesn’t affect how many lives that they continue to help on a day-to-day basis through their operations.

Mayor’s full statement

“The city of Augusta, Ga., began experiencing technical difficulties this past Sunday unrelated to last week’s outage, resulting in a disruption to certain computer systems. We began an investigation and determined that we were the victim of unauthorized access to our system. Our Information Technology Department is working diligently to investigate the incident, to confirm its impact on our systems, and to restore full functionality to our systems as soon as possible. We are also actively investigating to determine whether any sensitive data may have been impacted. At this time, we have not confirmed that any sensitive data was compromised, but we will update you as more information becomes available. We appreciate your patience and understanding and apologize for any inconvenience. Our public safety offices and departments are continuing to operate and respond as needed.”

After a meeting to deal with computer problems the city has struggled with twice in a week, Mayor Garnett Johnson blamed “unauthorized access to our system.”