At today’s meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, Board Chair Rex Bohn warned that the county government is at risk of being hacked and held for ransom.

“This is a very, very real threat,” he said.

Bohn cited an April malware attack against Imperial County’s government website, saying it crippled their system for months. Cities and counties across the country have been targeted by ransomware, with the perpetrators demanding millions of dollars.

Bohn said eight or nine local businesses have been hit by such attacks. “Nobody wants to talk about it, but this is a big, big deal,” he said. The county is working to prevent such an attack here. “We’re being very, very proactive,” Bohn said.

The subject came up during a discussion about a $25,000 grant the county recently received through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to improve cybersecurity and voting infrastructure. 

Kelly Sanders, the county clerk/recorder/registrar of voters, said her staff has gone through extensive training on cybersecurity. Tom Lukins, with the county’s information technology department, said the county is looking to collaborate with the state’s Information Security Advisory Committee.

“We’re trying to understand what the threat is so we can target our defenses,” Lukins said. 

Kelly was asking the board today for approval to use the $25,000 in grant funding to buy some security software called Tenable Vulnerability Management, from a company called CDW-G, LLC. 

During discussion on the matter, Bohn also brought up concerns about voter fraud, saying he gets lots of calls from people who are worried about Russian interference in the 2020 election. 

Bohn expressed his own worries, though, about the potential for fraud with same-day voter registration, a state program that allows eligible citizens who’ve missed the registration deadline to vote anyway, as long as they complete a conditional registration. People can take advantage of the program even on Election Day, and Bohn said he saw a long line at the county Election Office at 8 p.m. last year. 

Sanders explained that such voters fill out a “conditional provisional ballot,” listing their current address and other information and signing the document under penalty of perjury.

But Bohn, who is up for reelection in the First District next year, said it sounds to him like the system might allow for “floating voters,” meaning people who lie about their address in an effort to swing an election.

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson pushed back against that notion, saying fears of voter fraud are “far outweighed by voter disenfranchisement and lack of participation.”

Studies and analysis have shown that the incidence of in-person voter fraud is vanishingly rare

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone thanked Sanders and Lukins and commended the work of the Humboldt Transparency Project, a program launched in 2008 that scans each and every ballot cast in an election, allowing people to look at each individual bubble and write-in vote.

“I hope our residents recognize that we do have the best elections department in the State of California,” Madrone said.

The board wound up approving Sanders’ request unanimously, giving the Elections Department authority to purchase the cybersecurity software.

Later in the meeting, Maggie Kraft, executive director of the Area 1 Agency on Aging (A1AA), offered an update on the recently formed Hoarding Task Force, which offers assistance local residents who hoard compulsively, as well as their friends and family members.

Kraft said that between two and four percent of the country’s population — translating to roughly 2,700 to 5,500 people here in Humboldt County — suffers from a hoarding disorder, and symptoms tend to get worse with age or some type of upheaval, such as divorce or health issues.

“Most people don’t understand hoarding or the toll it takes,” Kraft said.

In March the A1AA held a day-long conference, with funding from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Mental Health Services Act, called, “Dispelling Stigma: Hoarding Education, Treatment and Prevention.”

Kraft said grant funding also helped her agency start two support groups — one for people who hoard and another for their friends and family. Kraft currently leads these groups but said her agency would like to train participants to become peer leaders. 

The A1AA will hold its next meeting on Oct. 16, Kraft said.