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Courthouse security breach: No answers yet

It has been 13 months since Anderson County officials were apprised of a possible security breach to the Anderson County courthouse’s main computer servers. Details on what caused the breach and what information was compromised are still unknown, officials say.

The unanimous response from county officials and law enforcement regarding the breach investigation is that it is “ongoing.”

The Anderson County Sheriff’s Department is heading the investigation.

Asked on Friday if the investigation into the breach was complete, ACSD Chief Deputy Mark Lucas replied the investigation remains “incomplete at this time.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is providing technical assistance, reported Lucas.

In January this year, the Anderson County finance committee sent a letter to county District Attorney General Dave Clark requesting that Clark seek outside assistance with the investigation from the FBI and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, to which Clark replied that the FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were already providing assistance.

“Agents from the FBI have worked in the Anderson County Courthouse from the very first days of this investigation,” Clark reported.

Law enforcement at that time in the investigation still had not confirmed a crime had occurred, Clark said.

The investigation could take “several weeks, or months to complete,” he said.

That was six months into the investigation.

On March 9, Clark released additional information to officials on the investigation, this time including an estimated time frame in which the investigation would be complete.

Said Clark, “The investigators estimate that they need another 60 days before a process [separate investigation] like that would not interfere with their activities.”

In that same response letter to he county’s finance committee and commissioners, Clark reiterated that at that point in the investigation it still was not “clear whether any crime has occurred,” and further stated that it was not established “at this point that law enforcement’s role is necessary.”

Clark indicated that if it was determined that law enforcement’s role was not necessary in this case then it was possible law enforcement would terminate the criminal investigation and allow Anderson County officials the opportunity to proceed with a separate, civil investigation into the breach.

Nothing further was reported regarding the decision on whether or not to terminate the criminal investigation and proceed with a civil investigation.

The investigation is now nearing its 14-month mark and Clark’s response is the only report in the last several months that has included any detailed information.

Responses from the following county officials indicate they have not received any additional information regarding the breach.

“We can’t get any answers either and have been warned that we should not even do any guessing…because an active investigation is in process,” responded Dist. 6 Commissioner Steve Mead, in an email on Friday.

Dist. 3 County Commissioner Steve Emert stated in a recent response for comment that he has not heard any information about the breach, but that he has been getting questions about updates on the breach investigation from citizens in his district.

“I’ll be glad when it’s over so we can move on,” Emert said.

Dist. 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell’s response mirrored the responses of Mead.

“I do not really know what is going on in regards to this security breach. Last I heard it was still being investigated. I do have people ask me from time to time what is going on with the investigation. My answer is always the same. ‘It’s still being investigated,” replied Wandell in an email last week.

Wandell said he is hopeful the investigation is still ongoing and that the investigation bears something productive from it for the taxpayers of the county.

“We have made many changes and additions to the security of the IT department. This has cost money and was not budgeted. I think the only take-aways we have to this point are that our system and information is better secured and we have much better resources in our IT department…If nothing is found then we need to look at how and why this came to our attention. My guess is that there was some sort of tampering going on but proving it is a much harder task in the world of IT,” Wandell added.

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank responded similarly, stating she has received no further information and that, to her knowledge, “the investigation remains ongoing.”

Said Frank, “I think we do know from General Clark’s letter that the idea that there was a ‘breach’ of personal information released was not accurate. I continue to believe that as a county we have failed to perform due diligence by conducting at the minimum, a partial forensic audit to test transactions, as in my opinion, all indicators of alleged ‘breach’ point to the possibility of financial fraud. To date, that has not happened, though I have made those requests.”

An attempt was made last week by The Courier News to get a response from DA General Dave Clark on an update into the investigation, but as of Tuesday, Sept. 5, the newsroom has received no response from Clark’s office.