Nation’s website is hacked, but is now up and running

By Ken Luchterhand

Electronic media with the Ho-Chunk Nation took a big hit on Monday, March 6.
That’s when the Nation’s website crashed, falling victim to some hacker in search of money.
The hacker, making the website inaccessible to anyone until a ransom was paid, encrypted the content of the website. Hence, the name of the software used by the hacker is called “Ransomware.”
It was first noticed that morning, when someone was trying to access a form, but it wasn’t appearing. Shortly after, several other people reported the same problem, said Ho-Chunk Nation Information Technology Director Lael Hall.
Because the national news had keyed in on accusations of Russian meddling in electronic activity in the country, one of the first questions people had was, “Did the Russians do it?”
In answer to that question, tracing the person or persons responsible is nearly impossible.
IT has access to a world map provided by Kasperski, a computer antivirus and internet security firm, that shows the real-time hits on computer systems worldwide. It shows that hundreds of systems throughout the world are randomly being hit every minute. Computer systems are constantly searching for a way to enter any available system.
They turned the information over to the Ho-Chunk justice department to get the legal authorities involved, but nothing was possible.
The version of web software that was being used had a standardized programming, meaning all the company’s clients were using basically the same program. Therefore, if one of them was cracked, all were vulnerable.
They were able to recover data prior to the first of the year because it was saved, but anything newer than that was lost.
The Umbraco system they were using was vulnerable. In 2015, the IT department requested to have the system updated, but those requests were denied because of the costs involved.
 “Umbraco is open-sourced,” Hall said. “The version needed fixes or updates. This version we were using was out of date.” Now the system is through Visual Studios.
When the website went down, the first priority would to reactivate the casino websites because, potentially, money could be lost by not having a connection with patrons.
The Nation’s web site could have been reactivated in relatively short time, but it would have been in the same situation as before – vulnerable to a hack.
To protect or secure the website, Shane Steindorf has built the new Ho-Chunk Nation website from scratch, therefore making it one-of-a-kind.
The previous website cost the Nation approximately $25,000 to set up, which includes $3,000 for training of staff to maintain the site. But now, because the website now is being produced in-house, the only cost is the time of the fulltime Information Technology staff, eliminating costs from outsourcing.
 “Everything is in-house. No one can falsify our credentials and we make sure our password is safeguarded.”
But beyond the security aspect of the website, the IT crew saw this as an opportunity to make the website more “user friendly.”
“It is an easier format. From the Home page, a drop-down menu provides easy access to each department. Every department has its own page, which they can update and provide content.
Beyond the department pages, there is a common area, or “blogs,” in which notices of special events can be posted.
“It is up and running,” Steindorf said. “It is basic for now, providing all the forms and information, and we can add all the frills later.”
It is functional, which is the most important aspect. One of the biggest needs is to be able to post legal material, such as proposals that need a 45-day public review.
However, some other websites, such as the Hocak Worak website, are not up and running effectively. Those websites are being worked on at the present time.