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Computer viruses could prove costly to Orange

ORANGE — Town officials are hoping that a new server installed recently in Town Hall will mark the end of their ongoing battle with computer viruses — at least in that building.

But technology problems for other town departments are far from over, as there is little to no money budgeted for upgrades.

“The technology budget for the entire town is $5,000. That’s half of what we need for Town Hall alone,” said Town Administrator Diana Schindler.

She said the viral attacks are mostly coming in through email attachments.

According to Schindler, the town’s email host company has a very bad spam filter, allowing suspect emails to pass through. These messages look legitimate but after employees open them, they find their computers are working slowly or not at all.

The worst of these attacks happened a couple weeks ago to Highway Superintendent David Frye when a virus called “Cryptolocker” infected his computer and held all his files and data “hostage.”

According to Schindler, Paragus IT, the town’s computer consultant, tried to pay the $300 ransom the hijackers wanted to release the files. But when the hijackers asked for personal information, the consultants balked at the request.

In the end, Schindler said, “we weren’t able to get the files back, so we had to wipe out all the data and reinstall the operating system” on Frye’s computer.

Because of the new server and a more active antivirus system, Town Hall computers should now be less vulnerable to attack.

More vigilant monitoring by Paragus has also helped to identify the root cause of frequent crashes. Paragus consultants recently tracked down one Town Hall computer that was storing a virus and reinfecting the server.

While that issue has been resolved, the ongoing technology issues have hampered work over the past year.

“It’s really hard when you come in and the computers aren’t working, email is down, you can’t access your files,” said Schindler.

She added that on the town’s financial team, these problems are compounded by recent vacancies in the treasurer and accountant position and the switch from the old to new accounting software. As a result, financial reports to town departments, boards and committees backlogged over the past year.

In other departments, Schindler said technology issues “will need significant attention. None of our other departments have any money for technology and have not been able to take advantage of any of our other initiatives, except in emergencies.”

She said many town computers are old or refurbished, and have operating systems that will soon be obsolete.

“Over the next year ... we will need to update our computers. We could be talking about a significant upgrade. If we don’t have that, it won’t be long before we have huge problems.”

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