Detention hearing held following cyber-attack

by Dec 11, 2019Front Page, NEWS ka-no-he-da





Cherokee Tribal Court opened the detention hearing for Benjamin Cody Long on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 10:30 a.m. The hearing came two days days after the initial arraignment hearing on Monday, Dec. 9. 

Long has been charged with Felony Tampering with Public Records (In violation of Section 14-70.12(a)(3)) and Felony Obstructing Government Functions (In violation of Section 14-70.14 (a)(2)).

The judge for Wednesday’s hearing was Thomas Cochran. The defendant’s attorney was Brent Smith, and Shelli Buckner and Cody White represented the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).

The EBCI Tribal prosecutors moved for Long to be detained, and brought two witnesses for testimony. Long arrived in the courtroom in street clothes and handcuffs just after 10:45 a.m. Following Long’s arrival, the first witness was called to the stand.

Bill Travitz, the EBCI Director of Information Technology (IT), was the first witness. Tribal prosecutors were the first to question Travitz. He confirmed that Long was an employee in IT’s Infrastructure Services Department, and said that he should not have had access to his employee account at the time of the crime – the morning of Saturday, Dec. 7. Travitz said that this is because Long had just been suspended without leave on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 5 as advised by EBCI Human Resources.

Travitz said that prior to Long’s suspension, he and others with significant access should not view the surveillance loggings from Tribal buildings. These orders were given by Anthony Brown, the manager of the Infrastructure Department. Following the meeting, Travitz said that Long made unauthorized entry in the loggings, and this was the reason for his suspension.

Following his suspension, IT made the decision to disable Long’s account. However, Travitz says that a ‘servadmin’ account was used to unlock Long’s account on the morning of the incident. There are only three people who have access to the ‘servadmin’ account: Anthony Brown, Josh Oliver, and Long himself. Brown was called in to help resolve the issue at 7 a.m., after the attack had begun, and Oliver followed later that morning.

Travitz said that whoever encrypted the Tribal server with ransomware most likely had detailed knowledge of the servers. He said that timestamps on the firewall following the attack showed that the hacker quickly pinpointed each host server, and that it would have been extremely difficult to do so without having previous knowledge of the servers.

Smith took to questioning Travitz next. He first asked for clarification of how Long would have gained access to his account. Travitz said that they knew Long still had access to the ‘servadmin’ account, but said that the only way to deny that access would be to break the account, denying access to all. He also said that in hindsight, they should have broken the account, and they’ll “learn from it.”

Further in the questioning, Travitz said that the lead investigator for the Cherokee Indian Police Department (CIPD) was Roger Neadeau, and that they were the direct contact between IT and CIPD. Travitz said that there are documents that show the firewall records, and that he did show them to Neadeau. He continued by saying he is uncertain if Neadeau has them as evidence.

Smith asked about Long’s work history, and Travitz said that Long has not been previously suspended to his knowledge. He said that he has not known Long to leave the state during his time at IT either. Travitz has been in his position since Aug. 26 of this year. He did say that Long has been “counseled on multiple occasions by his supervisor” for “having a bad attitude”. 

Travitz then had several questions come from the Judge. Travitz confirmed that Long had knowledge of the vulnerabilities of the Tribal server and access to any backups. He also said that he does not know if Long has downloaded or possesses any property of the server due to the current state of the servers.

Smith finished his questioning of Travitz by asking who is now working with IT. Travitz said that they are in contact with Homeland Security and the FBI Cyber Division, and that they have “tier one” support for the time being.

The second testimony came from Atreyu Queen, the manager of the EBCI Public Safety Communications Center. He said the network going down has had a direct impact on their services, especially 911 dispatch. Queen says that due to the shut down, they cannot use their Computer Assisted Dispatch system, and therefore are having difficulty supporting officers in the field. They cannot track the locations of callers, and must rely on the caller knowing their exact location. He also said that information on any suspects cannot be quickly provided to officers. Queen said there have been approximately over 100 calls since the incident on Dec. 5.

As an example, Queen said there was a vehicle accident over the weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to the network issues, they received 13 calls and were delayed approximately 10-15 minutes.

Smith did not have any questions for Queen, and moved to call up the final witness, Robert Long. He is the father of the defendant, and resides in Swain County. Smith asked if he had a criminal record, to which Robert Long responded “no”. Robert Long said that he would be willing to accept custody of his son in the event of release before the next court hearings. He also said that he would eliminate the use of all technological devices in his residence in that case, and that he would accept probation officers to check on the defendant.

The Tribal prosecutors had no questions for Robert Long, and this was the end of the list of witnesses. White gave the Tribe’s position on the hearing, saying that “the Tribe is completely exposed” and that “we cannot afford to release” Long.

Smith said that they did not believe there has been a thorough investigation, and he suggested that the court consider posting bond in similar range to that of the state.

After hearing what they had to say, Judge Cochran said that he believed the evidence presented by the Tribe was strong, and the damage to the Tribe as a whole has been “immense and unprecedented”.

Judge Cochran decided that Long would be detained without bond, and that the next court hearing will be on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.