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Data interruption routine security measure, OPSO says | Crime/Police

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When crime analysts for the New Orleans City Council lost access to a Sheriff’s Office data feed, they said they were left wondering when and whether the agency would restore it.

Behind the scenes, a top official said Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office was going through the paces to verify that the analysts were who they said they were.

The access interruption, which briefly left several City Council criminal justice dashboards displaying stale data, put the Sheriff’s Office in the spotlight in the middle of the council’s annual budgeting process. The Council must approve a budget by Dec. 1.

Cyber-attack cited

In an interview, Assistant Sheriff Kristen Morales said she was first alerted that the council’s contract data analysts at AH Datalytics were requesting access data on Monday.

Those analysts had their access blocked after failing to log into the agency’s data system within a 30-day period, a practice Morales described as a routine security measure. Previous disruptions had always been resolved swiftly, the analysts said.

Morales, who joined the agency after Hutson’s May 2 inauguration, said she had little information about why the analysts needed access. There was no written agreement with them in place, and they used non-governmental email addresses.

Morales has made it her mission to vet the more than 4,000 users of the Sheriff’s Office system, she said, citing the December 2019 cyber-attack that cripped city functions.

“We are in a technology-dependent era,” said Morales. “One of the measures to safeguard our data is by access management, authentication and approval.”

The analysts were given scant information as to what was happening inside the agency on Monday. Their request for access lingered until Tuesday, when District A City Council member Joe Giarrusso expressed public concern at a council meeting. Hours later, the Sheriff’s Office restored access.

‘Two-way street’

Morales said the day-long gap wasn’t unreasonable. To her, the episode suggested the need for a formal agreement.

Sheriff Susan Hutson said the idea that the agency was trying to hide information was “categorically false.”

“We provide this data on a regular basis to the city of New Orleans, and nobody is trying to hide anything from anybody,” Hutson said.

Giarrusso, the council member, said it should have been obvious from the start that analysts representing the City Council deserved access. He also noted that the Council in August passed an ordinance mandating data access.

“I think the whole way around there needs to be better communication,” said Giarrusso. “From my perspective, the Sheriff’s Office either knows or should know who the right parties are to access the system.”

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