CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-TEAM has uncovered information that the City of Cleveland withheld from the public about the computer hacking at Hopkins Airport that left flight message boards down and affected other computers too.
The I-TEAM obtained internal documents showing a scramble to get federal officials involved and figure out what went wrong.
In April, the I-TEAM revealed flight message boards and e-mail accounts had been knocked out.
More than a week later, Cleveland City Hall finally admitted the systems had been hit by ransomware, a software infecting the systems with a demand for ransom.
Now, through a records request, the I-TEAM accessed text messages to and from airport officials.
When we first questioned the Mayor’s Office, a spokesman sent a statement about “isolated technical issues” affecting “a small number of systems.”
But internal messages 24 hours earlier read, “I’m on the phone with the FBI" and “We’re still trying to determine if any back-up data isn’t infected.”
For days, the city put out statements saying it had staff address the issue and there was no impact on flights or security.
Meantime, other messages show, “two additional FBI agents are in route to CLE" and “My question of virus protection and windows updates were not very well received by Frank.”
We even saw a reference to a “suspicious inquiry” on Facebook.
Another text from several days later shows arrangements being made for a conference call that included concern “that line is not secure and we have too many leaks.”
The city even put out a release saying there had been no hacking and no ransom demands.
Then after a week, city leaders stood with the FBI admitting, at last, some airport computers had been hit with a ransomware virus.
At that news conference, city leaders insisted there had been “no intent to mislead the media.” They claimed they had tried to be clear.
However, as internal records clearly show, the city knew much earlier and the problem was much deeper than it told the public.
After the trouble came to light, City Council took emergency action toward increasing airport computer security.
The I-TEAM also found Hopkins Airport functioning without an IT Director overseeing computer operations. Instead, the city had someone without a computer background handling that job.
The FBI has been investigating the attack on the airport computers. A spokesperson said Wednesday the investigation is still ongoing. Cyber crimes often take a long time to investigate.