For reasons that are entirely obscure, the Pottawatomie County government did not tell the public in any way that it had been hacked. The county’s computer operations were essentially entirely shut down for the better part of two weeks. They remain crippled.
The cyberattack occurred on Sept. 17. And yet nobody said anything about it until Monday, when the county treasurer gave an update on her operations to county commissioners. It was clear from that update that all the higher-ups at the county knew of the attack, and yet decided not to inform the public.
Nobody explained why they kept that secret, either.
Commissioners, in fact, discussed how to start getting the word out, and so on Tuesday morning, a message went out on an electronic notification system.
It seems worth saying what the county specifically did NOT do: Nobody called or alerted the newspapers or radio stations that routinely cover the county operations. That includes, predominantly, The Times of Pottawatomie County, but also The Mercury and the Onaga Herald. There’s also KMAN radio, which routinely covers the county. Not a word.
Evidently the directive from the higher-ups (after consulting with the people trying to fix the problem) was to draft up a statement for publication, but only to give that statement to media entities that called to ask about it.
Without an explanation, we’re left to speculate, and speculation is generally not helpful. If the county thought there was a real security risk of letting the word get out, then why did they draft up a statement for release? But if they really thought they needed to draft up a statement, then why didn’t they put it out?
Speculation tends to lead a person to conclude that the county simply didn’t want to have to face the bad public relations, and that they hoped by stalling they could have the problem fixed before the word got out.
If that’s the case, then this is a textbook example of how that line of thinking makes things worse. Again, we don’t know the rationale, but that’s because they haven’t given a rationale. And so at the moment they just look worse than if they had come right out and confirmed the bad news, and asked for the public’s patience.
Operating in the open is always, always, always a better way to conduct the public’s business.