Iowa counties’ records inaccessible in wake of suspected cyberattack

By: - January 6, 2023 11:48 am

A computer system used by some Iowa counties appears to have been hacked over the holidays and has yet to be fully restored. (Photo Bill Hinton/Getty Images)

A computer system used by some of Iowa’s county recorders appears to have been hacked over the holidays and has yet to be restored to full operational status.

Iowa’s county recorders maintain land records, issue marriage licenses and register births and deaths. They also issue titles and liens on boats, snowmobiles and ATVs. The biggest immediate effect of the apparent hack is that the public, as well as the recorders themselves, can’t currently access real estate records.

It’s not clear how many of Iowa’s county recorders are under contact with Cott Systems, which was the victim of a suspected cyberattack shortly after Christmas. The Ohio company offers document-hosting services to government agencies in at least 21 states.

Iowa counties that are known to have used at least some of Cott Systems’ services include Dallas, Scott, Allamakee, Black Hawk and Jasper counties.

Polk County uses some of Cott Systems’ software, but doesn’t contract with Cott for hosting the county’s records. As a result, it has been unaffected by the apparent cyberattack, according to Tom Brogan, Polk County’s first deputy recorder.

Dallas County, however, does have its documents hosted by Cott. Dallas County Recorder ReNae Arnold said Thursday that the company recently notified her of the hack.

“I don’t know anything about what happened or any of the details,” she said. “Their system was compromised, but how far (the hackers) went into their system, I have no idea. They’re not giving us that information.”

She added that Cott Systems has informed her office that the FBI is involved and is investigating the matter.

Other news sources have reported that Cott Systems informed all of its government customers on Dec. 26 of the attack. On Monday of this week, the company’s CEO, Deborah Ball, reportedly informed customers that Cott’s databases were still complete and that 93% of its infrastructure had been fixed. At that time, Ball said she was unsure when services might be fully restored.

The company was able to get Dallas County’s system up and running briefly earlier this week, but the system went down again on Thursday. It still wasn’t working Friday morning, although office personnel said they hope it will be operational early next week.

Arnold said Cott Systems has told her the hacker was not able to access any information from the Dallas County Recorder’s Office and has also assured her that no county records have been irretrievably lost.

“The information is still there, and we will be able to access it again at some point,” she said.

Cott Systems provides public-records management services for more than 300 government agencies in the United States. The company helps those agencies record and archive documents, while also making them searchable and accessible to members of the public.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.