FBI: No link found between cyberattack and Navy base attack

Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. (U.S. Military)

The FBI said Monday it has found no signs of any link between a cyberattack on computer systems of a Florida Panhandle city and last week’s attack at the naval air station there in which a Saudi flight student killed three sailors and wounded eight others.

Officials in the city of Pensacola became aware of the cyberattack early Saturday, hours after Friday’s shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Much of the city’s computer system remained offline Monday morning, and federal authorities were alerted to the cyberattack as a precaution.

The FBI tweeted in a brief statement that its initial investigation has not identified any connection between the cyberattack and the shooting. “Our preliminary investigation continues,” the FBI statement said without elaboration.

Earlier Monday, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson asked for patience in a community still grieving over the shooting at the Navy installation, a central part of the local economy and public life.

“We are a little bit hampered through this,” the mayor said.

City officials became aware of the cyberattack at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, several hours after Friday’s shooting, said city spokeswoman, Kaycee Lagarde.

“As a precaution we have reported the incident to the federal government,” Lagarde had said previously.

Investigators are trying to establish whether the killer in Friday’s attack at the base, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, 21, of the Royal Saudi Air Force, acted alone or was part of a larger plot.

Ransomware cyberattacks on government systems have been on the rise in recent years, with some crippling services for long periods of times.

In May, a cyberattack hobbled Baltimore’s computer network and cost the city more than $18 million to repair. City officials refused to pay demands for $76,000 in bitcoin.

During the summer, two Florida cities — Riviera Beach and Lake City — paid hackers more than $1 million combined after being targeted.

Pensacola’s spokeswoman could not immediately discuss how officials became aware of the cyberattack, nor would she discuss if a ransom had been requested.

“We don’t want to get into too many specifics because of security,” Lagarde said.

The city’s computer networks were disconnected from the Internet to prevent cyberintruders from causing further damage.

Much of the city’s computer systems remained offline Monday. However, city officials stressed that city offices were open and that all emergency services were running, including 911 services.

Some phone lines to city offices were not working as the city and federal authorities continued their investigation. The city’s email and other electronic services were also down until further notice.

“We’re continuing to operate,” Lagarde said. “We just might have to do some things a little bit old-school, with pen and paper.”