Sierra Tel hit by hacking attempt, company says, as internet goes dark for many Mountain Area residents

Dozens stand outside Sierra Tel on Crane Valley Road (426) after their internet went out Monday.
Dozens stand outside Sierra Tel on Crane Valley Road (426) after their internet went out Monday. Sierra Star

Long lines formed outside the Sierra Tel offices in Oakhurst and Mariposa Tuesday after internet service was knocked out for residential customers across the Mountain Area.

In a statement released at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sierra Tel said it became aware of an “apparent malicious hacking event” that started Monday, and temporarily disabled modems - devices that enable transmission of data over phone or cable lines - in the homes of many customers.

“We know this is very disruptive to our customers, neighbors, and friends,” the statement read. “We are doing everything we can to respond.”

The statement said the company was devoting “all available resources to investigating and responding to this event.”

“The technical details of what has happened are not yet completely known,” the statement said. “Current information suggests a malicious third party hack or software virus, simply to cause disruption, inconvenience, and harm.”

It appeared that Zyxel modems, model HN-51, were affected in the hack, the statement read. The company is seeking law enforcement assistance to investigate and track down any possible perpetrators, and the company has no reason to know it involves something specific to the area or Sierra Tel itself.

The number of affected customers wasn’t included in the statement.

Earlier Tuesday, dozens of customers lined up outside Sierra Tel’s office in Oakhurst, holding disabled modems in hand. When they called the Sierra Tel offices, some said they were placed in a queue that kept them on the phone for hours until they were told they needed to go to the office to receive a replacement.

John Stacy, a consultant who works from his home in Yosemite Lakes Park, was one of those in line. He said he was told a software update caused internet service to go out, before the company’s statement indicated a hack was to blame.

“How could they not have live tested the software first,” Stacy said. “I rely on my internet for work and telecommunication, and I’ve had to spend three to four hours here with nothing really explained. I’m definitely going to reconsider how I get my internet service.”

Stacy said his modem, a Zyxel P-660HN-51, was affected. It appeared Sierra Tel ran out of replacement modems Tuesday afternoon, causing some customers to leave their devices at the office to be fixed as soon as possible.

Michelle Bradford, an Oakhurst Realtor, said losing internet was simply a part of life.

“It’s not a life or death situation,” Bradford said. “If it was a major tragedy, that would be pretty bad, but this is just internet and life is going to go on once it gets fixed.”

Bradford said she had to leave her modem at Sierra Tel, and she was told she’d be called in a day or two when the device is fixed.

Sierra Tel said in its statement that technical staff were available to reset disabled modems, or could be replaced.

“We appreciate your patience,” the statement read. “We will release additional information as it becomes available.”

The company also offered pizza, doughnuts, and cookies to those waiting in line.

Additional information can be found at www.sierratel.com, or by calling (559) 683-4611, (209) 966-3636, or 1-877-658-4611.