Stolen credit card controversy could be headed to court

Dothan city commissioners vote to hire attorneys and other experts in data breach investigation.  Photo from December 3, 2019.
Dothan city commissioners vote to hire attorneys and other experts in data breach investigation. Photo from December 3, 2019.(WTVY News 4)
Published: Dec. 3, 2019 at 9:01 PM CST
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A data breach involving Dothan Utilities customers---assuming one occurred---potentially could turn into a fierce legal battle.

Commissioners on Tuesday hired attorneys to protect the city's interest and also employed services of Cyber forensics experts who will determine if personal information of utilities customers has been compromised.

“We do know we want to be cautious, we want to protect the public, we want to protect customers of our utility service and we want to do the right thing,” City Manger Kevin Cowper said following that vote.

What Cowper didn't say is if he believes there will be litigation in the matter.

Here's why this situation could be headed to court.

Central Square, the company that operates third party credit card processor Click 2 Gov, first told the city early last month that its payment system had likely been infiltrated, but later amended its statement. The company now claims it is unable to determine if credit card information of those paying utility bills online has been stolen.

However, that is not the opinion of others. “There were over four thousand (cards) compromised (in Dothan),” said Stas Alforov, researcher for Gemini Advisory, a highly-respected online security firm.

His claim seems to be reinforced by recent data breaches in other cities, including College Station, Texas that recently suspended credit card payments for its utility services.

A spokesperson for College Station said it did so after Central Square assured the city a breach issue had been fixed and then breaches occurred again. Like Dothan, College Station is also using experts to look into the matter.

Click 2 Gov breaches in 2017 and 2018 compromised about 300,000 cards and may have netted criminals about $2 million, per published reports.

In Dothan, commissioners, if not miffed, seem confused about conflicting information from Central Square.

Along with Mayor Mark Saliba, City Attorney Len White, and Cowper, they met privately Tuesday to discuss possible options. The meeting, called an executive session, is allowed under Alabama law.

The city purchases Cyber insurance, subject to a $25,000 deductible.

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