Ferguson's tiny IT operation in the maelstrom

Another small community gets big hacker attention

Ferguson, Mo., the city in the midst of protests over a fatal police shooting, runs the type of IT department that gets almost no attention.

Ferguson doesn't have a CIO or the type of big IT vision found in larger communities, at least judging from the documents it makes available online.

City of Ferguson, Mo., IT department
Tech equipment overseen by Ferguson, Mo., IT operation.

It operates with two IT employees, a network administrator and an IT specialist, and uses an outside contractor for some services, according to budget documents. It's a city of only 21,000.

The fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 has had enormous impact nationally, drawing attention from President Barack Obama on Thursday. It has also made this city a target of the hacker group Anonymous.

Anonymous has said that if police "abuse, harass -- or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson we will take every web based asset of your departments and governments off line. That is not a threat, it is a promise. If you attack the protesters, we will attack every server and computer you have."

Ferguson does not have a lot of computers.

In terms of PCs, the city has about 60 and its budget goal is to buy 10 PCs per year. If it can achieve that, "the annual life cycle of each PC is reduced to only 6 years, which is more in line with industry standards," according to city documents.

Anonymous did succeed in taking down the city's website Sunday night. According to a report on KMOV.com, the website of a local TV station, officials had removed personal information from the site the day before the attack.

The website, which the city recently spent $19,000 to redesign, appeared to be operating normally Thursday.

The city is using VMware and operates a small server room that the city said needs to be relocated to a site at less risk of water damage. The city was also investigating the use of cloud services for some applications.

The hacker threat in Ferguson has some similarities to a situation in Steubenville, Ohio, in the wake of a rape case. A municipality with a population about 19,000, Steubenville found itself getting a lot of attention from hackers, who sought police records.

Anonymous claimed to have the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown and had published it on their Twitter feed, though Ferguson police said the name that was posted was incorrect. Twitter has suspended the account associated with Anonymous.

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