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Hack forces state computer system crash; Private info presumed safe

3 weeks 1 day 15 hours ago Monday, November 18 2019 Nov 18, 2019 November 18, 2019 11:31 AM November 18, 2019 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - An investigation is underway after hackers forced state computer network officials to disconnect Louisiana government from the internet Monday.

"This attempted ransomware attack is similar to the ransomware targeted at local school districts and government entities across the country this summer. There is no anticipated data loss and the state did not pay a ransom," the governor said in a statement on social media late Monday.

Among the services impacted by the computer outage were driver's license and other DMV business, document filing for food stamps and email communication with most people on the Louisiana network.  The websites of most state agencies were also off-line Monday.

Many services were restored by the end of the business day but others may take a few more days to be up and running again, the state said.

Some state employees were sent home early Monday because work was not able to be conducted.

State officials said the government computer network was accessed by someone and something from outside the network in an apparent hack but by Monday afternoon were confident private information was safe.  No records were compromised, authorities told WBRZ, and believed tax information, healthcare records and other forms of data held by the state related to citizens was not in jeopardy. 

Computers were disconnected from the internet and some employees told WBRZ they were instructed to power computers off. 

The crash impacted the Office of Motor Vehicles where authorities suggested people avoid the agency and do business another day.  Just before lunchtime, the state driver's license system was working sporadically - some services were available and others were down.

A federal background check system is off-line amid the computer outage, authorities reported late Monday.  Known by its official name, the NCIC, is a database of a person's criminal record history, a list of wanted fugitives and stolen properties and also information about missing persons.  It is available to federal authorities along with state and local law enforcement.   Information in the NCIC is documented criminal justice agency information and access to that data is restricted to duly authorized criminal justice agencies, the federal government outlines in its explanation of the system.  It's unlikely to have an adverse impact on local authorities' ability to make arrests. 

The Division of Administration, the governor's business and operation department, said once an issue was realized, protocol called for shutting down all out-going network traffic.

The attack was similar to attacks targeted at school districts earlier this year. 

The state said it does not appear there was any data loss related to the incident Monday. 

Louisiana State Police and several federal agencies are investigating, including the special cyber force known as ESF-17.  It consists of leaders from the technology department, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, State Police, the Louisiana National Guard and other cybersecurity experts.

“No one is immune to these attempted cyber attacks, which is why Governor Edwards has focused on building Louisiana’s cybersecurity capabilities,” Jay Dardenne, commissioner of administration, said. “Our experts train and prepare for these types of incidents and have been successful in mitigating similar issues in the past, including this summer when our teams successfully brought services back online following the cyber attack on local schools. We have confidence in ourcyber safeguards, capabilities and personnel and we are working to bring as many online services back online as quickly as we can.”

As state officials dealt with the attack Monday, firefighters were called to the home of the state's chief technology officer for a fire.  

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz

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