Security breach prompts county to examine cyber-security

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 30, 2012 

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News of a massive security breach affecting more than 3.5 million S.C. taxpayers prompted Beaufort County officials to examine their own cyber-security.

They said Tuesday that county taxpayer information -- including Social Security numbers and other personal data -- is safe from similar cyber attacks.

County Council Chairman Weston Newton said that as soon as he heard that foreign hackers had accessed 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit or debit-card numbers from the S.C. Department of Revenue, he called county officials to ask how they handle and protect similar information.

What he learned, he says, comforted him.

"The county does not keep any of that information in a web-based portal," Newton said. "That means that you can't use the World Wide Web to access those databases or any kind of personal information. I'm confident that what happened with (the Department of Revenue) couldn't happen with our system."

Transactions like credit card payments are processed and encrypted by a third-party vendor, said Bryan Hill, deputy county administrator.

However, Newton said storing personal information off-line would not prevent an internal data breach like one earlier this year, when a S.C. Department of Health and Human Services employee allegedly used a thumb drive to steal personal information of about 228,000 Medicaid recipients.

"That kind of attack could still happen but improvements are being made now to prevent a system breach internally," Newton said. "With that system, county administrators would be notified immediately of any kind of internal security breach."

The county also is responsible for managing tax collection for several local municipalities, including the city of Beaufort.

Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said he was relieved to know county officials are taking cyber-security seriously.

"I assumed and I would hope that the county would review and scrutinize its system because this can obviously be a very serious situation, as the state is learning now," Keyserling said.

State lawmakers began their review of the breach Tuesday when Department of Revenue director James Etter was summoned by the Senate Finance Committee for the first legislative hearing since the breach became public four days ago.

South Carolina and Experian agreed to offer free lifetime ID theft resolution to S.C. data breach victims, including help in eliminating bogus credit card accounts from credit histories. The company will help fix ID theft problems even if they are not related to the hacking at the revenue department.

Experian capped the state's cost for providing the one year of monitoring and lifetime theft resolution at $12 million, Haley said during a news conference Tuesday.

About 287,000 people have registered for monitoring with Experian, she said.

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

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