Cyberattack disrupts unemployment benefits in some states

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A cyberattack on a software company has disrupted unemployment benefits and job search assistance for thousands of people in multiple states.

In Tennessee, the unemployment benefits website went down Thursday morning after the provider, Geographic Solutions Inc., told the state on Sunday that service would be halted. Some 12,000 Tennesseans are on the unemployment program and, at this time, they are not receiving their payments.

The company said it expects the Tennessee system to be back online by July 4.

“With a looming recession, it is unacceptable that Tennessee residents cannot receive the unemployment benefits they deserve,” said Republican Senator Paul Bailey, chairman of the Trade and Labor Committee.

In a statement dated Wednesday evening, the president of Geographic Solutions said initial findings from the investigation indicate that no personal data was accessed and no data was deleted from its operations center. network.

Chairman Paul Toomey said his company identified “abnormal activity” on its network and immediately took Tennessee’s system offline to stop the activity.

“With the assistance of third-party specialists, we are conducting a full investigation to determine the cause and extent of the incident,” Toomey said. “This investigation is still ongoing and we are taking steps to prevent it from happening again.”

Unemployment websites in several other states were also affected. In Louisiana, people seeking to file an unemployment claim online are encouraged to use a call center instead. The website for filing claims in Nebraska has been taken offline, and the state said it doesn’t have an exact timeline for when it will be backed up.

“Individuals cannot file for unemployment until the system is back online,” Nebraska Department of Labor spokeswoman Grace Johnson said in an email.

It is still unclear whether it was a ransomware attack or some other type of cyber incident that affected Geographic Solutions. It’s also unclear how many states are affected.

The Geographic Solutions website was down Thursday morning. The Florida-based company said its customers include more than 35 states and territories.

Some state-run job search sites were also taken offline due to the attack, including the one in Tennessee. Florida said it was temporarily waiving a job search requirement for people receiving unemployment benefits. Texas has created a new website for its job seekers with links to popular job search sites such as LinkedIn.

Nebraska said Geographic Solutions indicated that no personal user data was compromised. Florida said there was no indication that any of its state systems had been breached.

Bailey, the Tennessee legislator, said the state Department of Labor needed a back-up plan, “so they’re not completely dependent on a system that has proven to be unreliable.” He said the state should do “whatever it takes” to get people getting their unemployment benefits now and streamline the process of updating the system with the money set aside by lawmakers. State.

The duration of the potential outage is unknown. Texas said it expects its job search sites to remain offline until early next week.

State governments, as well as their contractors, are often the target of cybercriminals. Nigerian online scammers have been particularly active in stealing increased unemployment aid at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ransomware attacks, in which criminals encrypt victims’ data and demand payment to restore it to normal, continue to wreak havoc on digital systems that provide essential government services. A recent ransomware attack on the Costa Rican government has left teachers unpaid and wreaked havoc on the country’s healthcare system.

Last year, cybercriminals launched ransomware attacks in the United States that forced the closure of an oil pipeline that supplies the East Coast, halted production at the world’s largest meat processing company and compromised a major software company with thousands of customers worldwide.

Despite prioritizing the problem, the US government hasn’t had much luck in holding major ransomware players accountable. Many operate in or near Russia with impunity.

Allan Liska, intelligence analyst at cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said an attack affecting those who lost their jobs after getting unemployment benefits is a stark reminder of the far-reaching effects cybercrime can have.

“The people who will be hit hardest by this are those with the fewest resources,” he said.


Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia.

Jonathan Mattise and Alan Suderman, Associated Press

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