HUNTINGTON - Leaders from more than 231 cities and towns attended the 50th annual West Virginia Municipal League Conference in Huntington on Wednesday.

The conference, held at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena and Convention Center, focused on topics such as how municipalities can investigate sexual harassment claims and how to deal with malicious computer software that holds data hostage.

The conference is the Municipal League's annual educational event for its members to hear from experts about various topics. The event is also an opportunity for leaders to meet one another, said Travis Blosser, Municipal League executive director.

"We give them speakers and opportunities, not to just engage through that, but to also be able to pick up from colleagues and people who are in the same roles they are in," Blosser said.

Wednesday's conference featured presentations by attorneys from Cipriani & Werner, which has an office in Charleston. Attorneys gave Municipal League members a presentation about investigating sexual harassment and how to deal with ransomware.

"We are living in the '#MeToo' era. Years have gone by that things have been allowed to happen that shouldn't have been happening," Blosser said. "We are making sure our officials understand how you should investigate those matters so that there's proper resolution right at the end of that."

Peter Rossi, of Cipriani & Werner's North Jersey Metropolitan Office, said ransomware is becoming an issue for city and county governments across the nation. Ransomware is malicious computer software that holds data hostage until a ransom is paid. Blosser said Harrison County recently fell victim to such a scam. More notably, officials in Baltimore announced some of the city's data was being held in a similar ransomware attack.

Ransomware is easily distributed by hackers, and the ransom's money is usually paid using Bitcoin, an untraceable and unregulated online currency, Rossi said.

"We are at the point now you can go onto the dark web and purchase a ransomware kit," he said.

Rossi said cities must decide on a case-by-case basis whether to pay a ransom or not. Some smaller cities might not have data on backup and paying the ransom could be the only option. To protect data, Rossi recommends cities back up all data and regularly maintain software security upgrades.

The conference concluded Thursday, Aug. 8, as Huntington Mayor Steve Williams stepped down from a one-year term as Municipal League president. City of Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti was named the league's new president last month.

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