OAKHURST/MARIPOSA — When thousands of people were suddenly unable to connect to the internet this past week, phones began ringing at Sierra Tel — the local internet provider hit with a malicious hack of one brand of modems.
The service interruptions reportedly began as early as last Friday evening for some, and Sierra Tel became aware of the problem on Monday morning.
Laura Norman, Public Relations Supervisor, says the hack was not a “disruption of service,” but rather an exploit on a specific modem — the Zyxel HN51 — and many providers, not just Sierra Tel, were hit hard.
“It was not targeted at Sierra Tel,” says Norman, who notes that some customers with the targeted modem were not affected at all. “The hackers were able to access a port on the modem and inject a virus. That set the modem back to the factory default, making it unable to authenticate on the network.”
As people lined up at the company’s offices in Oakhurst and Mariposa, Sierra Tel employees moved into high gear, taking in the affected modems, blocking the vulnerability and installing fresh software. After reflashing, tagging and bagging them, they were available to be picked up by customers.
Sierra Tel also sent out runners to deliver new modems to local businesses, and technicians worked around the clock, doing their best to get everyone back online as quickly as possible. Company offices were open until 7 p.m. every night this week to accommodate customers for drop-off and pick-up.
Sierra Tel went through their entire stock of 1,500 modems, and when they called the manufacturer to order 2,000 more, they were told they could have 100 — some time next week. With so many providers needing replacements, says Norman, the manufacturer’s stock was depleted and orders couldn’t be filled.
Norman now reports that they are expecting a delivery of 1,000 by early next week.
As of the end of the day Thursday, Sierra Tel was completely caught up with updating the modems they had received, and have gotten those back out to their customers.
“At this point, we expect there will be a few latecomers, but we should be able to update their modems while they wait,” says Norman.
Most importantly, she says, people are very relieved to know that their personal network and data were secure during this incident.
“The hack was rather like putting the modem to sleep,” she says. “The lights were on, but the network couldn’t be authenticated, and no one’s data was compromised.”
Norman and everyone at Sierra Tel would like to express their gratitude to their customers throughout this incident.
“For the most part they’ve been extremely kind and gracious, and we really do appreciate it.”