baltimore city hall

After Fired Employee Easily Gains Access, Baltimore Increases Security at Municipal Buildings

Since a May breach, the city has added security personnel at several buildings and plans to increase employee awareness of how to report suspicious activity.

The city of Baltimore is increasing its security measures in municipal buildings after an inspector general’s report found that a former employee was able to easily gain “unfettered access” to non-public areas, including employee offices and “locations containing sensitive material and equipment.”

Though the employee is not named in Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming’s report, The Baltimore Sun confirmed through multiple city sources that the individual was Tirell Clifton, who was fired in May 2018 for having alleged hacking tools on his work computer.

Clifton spent over two hours at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building on May 6, the day before the city government was struck by a ransomware attack that brought down several billing systems and employee email access. A potential connection between Clifton’s visit to the building and the attack was investigated and determined to be unlikely, according to the Sun’s sources.

The inspector general’s report places most of the blame for the breach on a guard employed by an outside vendor that provides security services to the city. The guard has now been barred from working at city properties.

“Despite being told directly by the individual that they had been terminated from city employment, the security guard allowed them access to the elevators without scanning identification, signing into a log book or confirming the individual was allowed access to nonpublic areas,” Cumming wrote in the report.

The guard told investigators that he did not follow normal procedures because he “recognized and knew of” Clifton. In addition, Clifton was wearing a tactical vest and “badge similar to those issued to law enforcement,” causing several employees to believe he had gone into law enforcement and not question his presence, Cumming wrote.

“The former employee indicated to others that they were not law enforcement and that the uniform was part of their position as a process server,” Cumming wrote. “During the [inspector general] interview, the former employee admitted the vest and badge were not required were not required as part of the job as a process server and that they purchased the items online.”

Clifton also admitted that he entered non-public areas and said he came back to speak with former colleagues, including one he spoke with for over an hour. The inspector general’s office found no evidence that Clifton “damaged any equipment or took any material” outside of the building.

As a result of the incident, the government will review current security protocols and make changes where necessary, including improving employee awareness of how to prevent unauthorized access and how city departments learn of employee terminations.

Chichi Nyagah-Nash, the city’s acting general services director who oversees security services, said in a letter to Cumming’s office that her department has updated protocols on validating employee and visitor identities, according to the Sun. She is working to develop a “building security campaign and educational outreach effort” to encourage employees to report suspicious behavior and deny access to people in the building without proper identification.

The department has also installed new stanchions in four buildings to help direct people toward security desks, and stationed more security personnel at City Hall and three other buildings—including the Abel Wolman building.

“The safety and security of the city staff in, and visitors to, city buildings is something that we take extremely seriously,” Nyagah-Nash wrote.

The breach came less than a month before a disgruntled city employee killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building, causing city governments across the country to step up their own security operations.

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